Saturday, January 26, 2008

TTV's and Big garden birdwatch 2008

We started off the weekend by doing a second visit to our first four Tetrads. This we managed in a little under five hours, walking about nine miles. Both of the reservoirs were very much quieter than when we visited last year, probably due to the men from Defra having gone about their murder earlier this week, continuing the Ruddy Duck cull. We taxpayers are forking out £8.4million for people to go onto nature reserves and shoot an introduced duck, to avoid hybridisation of White-headed Ducks in Spain. In the process lots of other wildfowl are getting shot and those that aren't killed are substantially disturbed. What genius had that idea? All 'wildfowling' (funny how there's so many euphemisms for the general human taste of killing for pleasure) should be illegal, full stop.

What little we did count included a reasonable number of Pochard's including this much more Rufous coloured female, in comparison to the bird I snapped last week:

When we got home we decided to participate in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, and spent an hour counting everything that came into the garden. We counted 120 individuals in 20 species, and realised that (a) we've been under-recording and therefore under-reporting the number of birds in the garden to the BTO and (b) we should spend more time watching the birds in the garden!

A recent garden tick (less than 2 weeks) is the Stock Dove/Stock Pigeon, today we had four individuals in the hour:

They are slightly smaller than the Woodpigeon, lacking the white neck patch, with black eyes and tell-tale black spots on the primary wing feathers.

Also in the garden today was this Dunnock:

This female Reed Bunting was one of five individuals:

The last visitor to the garden in our hour was this male Siskin on the left of the two feeders, looks like he's figured the feeders out now:

The actual record submitted to the RSPB (and the BTO) was:

Starlings 20
Collared Doves 12
Woodpigeon 3
Blue Tit 4
Blackbirds 6
Stock Doves 4
Reed Bunting 5
Wren 1
Robin 2
Goldfinch 15
Dunnock 2
Magpie 1
Chaffinch 15
House Sparrow 50
Greenfinch 3
Song Thrush 1
Great Tit 2
Carrion Crow 1
Long-tailed Tit 1
Siskin 1

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Norfolk - the bird club trip that wasn't... day 2

Our Sunday started with a relatively early alarm and a quick breakfast then down to RSPB Cantley Marshes. We wandered around and hung around from when we got there (0740) until finally we decided to walk to the other entrance to the reserve around 0900. We met up with one other member of the Northants Bird Club, so it looks like most people had chosen the Dumfries and Galloway trip of the previous weekend.

At Cantley Marsh we did get distant views of Taiga Bean Goose (a tick), but too far and with too little light to even attempt a photograph. We decided to head our separate ways and set a provisional meeting at Hickling Broad in the afternoon. It had just started to rain and we were tired, so we changed plans and decided to head back home via a number of stop-offs. The first stop we decided should be Barnham Cross Common. As the (Where to watch birds in Britain) book suggests, we did catch a very brief glimpse of a Hawfinch (another tick) in the trees by the Anglian Water pumping station, so despite the substantial change in plans the morning was proving to be successful. From Barnham Cross Common we decided to head to the Welney WWT reserve.

Two junctions short of the reserve itself, we spotted this Barn Owl, quartering a field:

Not a tick, but a fantastic sight at 11:30 on a Sunday!

We watched it hunting for about five minutes before it landed, grabbed something and headed back into its barn, no doubt for a meal and the some sleep. We've been wanting to see an owl, any owl for some weeks now, so this was a real treat.

Lunch at Welney was as good as ever, we recommend it to anyone. The reserve itself was flooded, even more so than our previous visit in July of 2007. So much so that from the main hide the reserve looked more like an inland sea, with none of the islands visible at all.

In front of the main hide on the fringe of the Pochards and Whooper Swans was this hybrid duck. It looks to me like a Scaup x Tufted Duck?

Amongst the large numbers of male Pochards were a few females:

From Welney, we headed next to Paxton Pits in Cambridgeshire (, which having visited for the first time I would definitely recommend. Parking and entry is free and if you join as a 'friend' all the hot drinks are half-price. The volunteer staff are very friendly and it looks like a 'hot spot' for bird life too.

From the first hide on the 'Heron Walk' we saw this Great Cormorant. it is showing the white flank patch of a courting bird, the white head plumage is apparently a pre-cursor to pairing and breeding and can often ne replaced shortly after a pair is matched. It is also characteristic of the silensis race, the inland Great Cormorant (thank you Neil).

Also from this hide we spotted a large group of Stock Doves in some trees, too distant to photograph but our final tick of the weekend as we haven't really looked for these birds before and we're certain we've written large numbers off as Woodpigeon.

From Paxton it was time to head home and get ready for the working week, sigh. A great weekend though even if not as planned, with new birds!

Labels: , , , , ,

Norfolk - the bird club trip that wasn't...

The bird club organises a Sunday trip to Norfolk every January. We decided to make a weekend of it and headed up on the Friday evening, straight after work. The first night we stayed at the Burleigh House Hotel in Hunstanton (, which is a very welcoming family run hotel, providing excellent value and a very tasty vegetarian breakfast (amongst a good number of options). We'll be heading back there without a doubt.

Saturday started grey and overcast with a forecast of rain all day. We headed directly to RSPB Titchwell Marsh (, one of our favourite reserves. We stopped off in the first hide, the Island hide and settled down to some birdwatching. Helen opened the hide window, which for some reason opens outward, which caught us both by surprise. The noise it made set-up about 80% of the birds on the reserve. We sat there sheepishly for about ten minutes before we plucked up the courage to head up to the next hide!

From this hide we had good views of the remaining Golden Plover, including this individual:

Golden Plover, in winter, seem to spend all their time in large to huge flocks. The flock at Titchwell Marsh is no exception, comprising many hundreds of birds often intermingled with lapwing. This shot shows a bird landing with the flock, which was settling down after a 'fright'.

As well as the Golden Plover and Lapwing, there must have been at least 30 Ruff, including this one:

The Ruff included a couple with the white-morph head markings. As well as the Ruff there were Shelduck and wintering Brent geese from Russia, Branta bernicla:

These Brent were much darker bellied than the Goose we saw last week in Scotland, though all Brent geese have the distinctive black head and neck with the white band, rather like a bowtie!

From this hide we headed out to the sea-watching point at the head of the reserve, and observed Common Gulls, Bar-tailed Godwits (lots of them!), Knot, Greater Black-backed Gulls, and a couple of Grey Plover:

Whilst watching these waders we were joined by one of the reserve volunteers, a chap called Ray, who was brilliant. He helped us understand the different behaviours of the waders and their relative sizes, which really was very informative. He also pointed out the passing Common Scoter and Red-necked Diver on the horizon, together with the pair of Eider Duck relatively close-in (our first tick of the weekend!).

From Titchwell we took Ray's advice and decided to head to Salthouse to see both the Snow Bunting and the Lapland Longspur (Bunting), fingers crossed, on the beach. We stopped for a cuppa in the Titchwell reserve facilities and another birder who'd been at the sea-watching spot with us caught up with and said we'd missed a flock of over 40 Snow Buntings just passing by!! Talk about timing, or lack of it! Anyway we headed to Salthouse, getting lost en route, and parked-up. It was obvious where the birds were judging by the line of people in green looking into binoculars and telescopes.

We joined them. Someone had the forethought to bring fresh bird food and had laid some out so we were soon treated to the flock descending to feed, albeit nervously eyeing up the line of humans...

I've picked out these two Snow Buntings to illustrate the difference in plumage amongst individuals. I suspect the first picture shows a male and the second a female:

In amongst the thirty-forty Snow Buntings were two Lapland Longspurs, including this well marked male:

Click on the picture (any of them!) for a better view. Behind him is a (Ruddy) Turnstone. Both these species were ticks, which made for a very exciting time at Salthouse. A birder we met there gave us directions to the White-crowned Sparrow, a very rare vagrant from America. Only the previous weekend we'd been saying we'd not go and see the bird as it was out of its natural habitat and we weren't sure it was a good idea. But now we were only a mile away and with clear directions we decided to go and see if we could find it. Again the birders showed us where the bird was, as there was a small group standing looking into brush close to the church in Cley.

We watched it appear, hence this photograph, then duck back into cover:

We stayed put to watch for it again, at least fifteen birders looking into this brush. Meanwhile the sparrow had hopped onto the closest hedge and was watching us. I spotted it and was maneuvering my camera for a better shot as I said 'there it is'. The chap at the very front reacted like he'd been hit, grabbed his camera kit and barged through the group shocking us and putting the bird to flight. We'd encountered for the first time the negative side of 'twitching' as this chap was clearly oblivious to anyone else in his single-minded determination to get the best photograph, so we beat a hasty retreat and left him to it.

All-in-all a very successful day though, four new ticks, so we headed to our overnight stop in Acle.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dumfries and Galloway - Bird Club Trip - Sunday

On Sunday the weather was forecast to be atrocious, which it mostly was! Our first destination, Caerlaverock WWT reserve (, didn't actually open until 10am, so we headed out to scout the surrounding fields and the flocks of geese feeding there. Our first encounter however was with a couple of cattle wandering down the road and some patient local police officers, escorting them back into their field :)

En route to the reserve we were overflown by both Pink-footed and Greylag geese but we must have seen at least five thousand Barnacle Geese. In the last fields before the reserve the expert birders spotted a Light-bellied Brent Goose, Branta Bernicla Hrota, our fourth and final 'tick' of the weekend. One of the birders on the weekend already has around 375 birds and this one was a tick for him too, and he was very excited! The wind was blowing fiercely and it was a trouble to get the bird in the scope but once spotted it really was quite distinctive from the flock of Barnacles it was within. It was far too distant to take a useable photograph though.

After this excitement, we headed into the reserve. One thing I noticed quite quickly was the very large numbers of Yellowhammer, with concentrations much greater than I've seen in England. This male was showing adult/summer plumage:

At 11am the warden feeds the swans, geese, ducks and pigeons, which is quite a sight. As he whistles the birds stop jostling and fighting and move as one to where he appears. It's a good opportunity to take some photographs, even in half-light, as this Whooper Swan illustrates:

Also I've wanted a good plumage shot of a (Eurasian) Wigeon drake for some time (click to see it better):

The rain came in as it approached lunchtime, and although everyone was looking for the Red-breasted Goose somewhere in the Barnacle flock, it was nowhere to be seen, so we decided to head home, having thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone and the weekend itself. We'll definitely be heading back to Dumfries and Galloway, hopefully with better weather next time!

Labels: , , , , ,

Dumfries and Galloway - Bird Club Trip - Saturday

This weekend saw our first outing with Northants Bird Club ( having joined the group in December. The trip was a weekend visit to Dumfries and Galloway, an area we've never been to before.

Saturday started by the old lighthouse at Southerness Point. It was freezing cold and with the heavy cloud quite dull but the shoreline was occupied with good numbers of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits. We also saw a few Knot and some Purple Sandpiper (new bird!), though the photographs I tried were all grey and blurry so unusable. In addition to the shore birds we also saw a Red-breasted Merganser, so by 9am had two new species, an excellent start.

What was most impressive though was the speed at which the bird club members were identifying birds by call alone or by quick scans with their bins. I wonder if we'll ever be able to do that?

From Southerness Point it was on to Mereshead RSPB reserve ( The feeders outside the window of the reserve office were covered in 'garden' birds including Siskin and it was good to see so many birds so close up. While we were chatting with the warden we were informed there was a Male Hen Harrier in the air so we dashed outside to see it, and eventually did indeed see it though by then quite distant. We're not counting the bird as a 'tick' yet as it wasn't distinct enough to recognise it but it was still exciting! Around the reserve were a number of Barnacle Geese, wintering from Greenland. This part of Scotland in fact hosts the entire Greenland breeding population during the winter. I photographed this pair flying past:

You can see from the background just how dull it was. From the two hides we spotted numbers of wintering ducks, etc, but nothing remarkable. In the brief woodland part of the trail before the coastal saltmarsh, we spotted a pair of Roe Deer, I snapped this one just before it disappeared out of view, showing their typical 'bounding' method of running:

The saltmarsh walk turned out to be remarkably quiet with only the odd Robin for company, probably due to the harsh weather of the previous two weeks.

From the RSPB reserve we drove on to visit a Red Kite feeding station at a farm near Loch Ken. For a bargain £2.50 each you get to watch as they put out sliced up roadkill and dead chicken. We counted approximately 35 birds at peak. Again the lighting conditions were very poor, having driven into the heavy cloud on the way to the Loch. This is about the best shot I managed, showing a Red Kite approach the ground to grab some of the food:

It was very enjoyable listening to the birds calling before the feed, seeing them swoop and dive to grab the food or hassle the Crows and to see them so close-up.

The final destination on Saturday was another RSPB reserve - Ken-Dee Marshes ( Just south of there we encountered a small flock of rare Greater White Fronted Geese wintering from Greenland. Surprisingly these birds aren't protected so can be shot by 'hunters'. Even more surprisingly the gate to the reserve had a 'shooting in progress' sign on the entrance. Shooting on a nature reserve? The reserve as a consequence was very quiet, so we headed home as night fell.

Labels: , , , , ,

Dumfries & Galloway - Bird Club Trip

We got up to Dumfries and Galloway late on Friday afternoon, just before sunset, but with sufficient time to pop into the WWT at Caerlaverock (, to see the extensive feeding flock of Barnacle Geese. This area accommodates the entire Svalbard breeding population, some 13,500-14,000 geese.

While sat in the southern-most tower we spotted a white coloured goose amongst the flock. I got over-excited imagining it might be a Snow Goose, but Helen correctly pointed out that it lacked black wing tips. The WWT warden at the visitor centre advised us that it is in fact a leucistic Barnacle Goose, (see:, apparently one of the two or three in the whole population. You can see the bird here, though the photograph was taken in failing light and at a notable distance:

here with it's head raised:

and here, head-down, amongst the feeding flock once we'd got just a little closer:

As we walked back towards the centre past one of the screened fields, something spooked the flock feeding in that particular field. The sound of 2,000 - 3,000 geese taking off is an amazing experience. Even more amazing they flew towards us, as you can see from these two photos, with a backdrop of the sky, lit-up by a setting sun. I am particularly pleased with these photos, they wont win any competitions but I think they are beautiful and give an impression of the scale of what we witnessed close-up:

and here a broader picture (have a closer look by clicking on the picture):

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, January 07, 2008

Woodland Walk

Our first walk of 2008 was a trip round Salcey, which was a bit of a gamble as nothing of interest has been reported there for months now. On south stretch of the 'Woodpecker Trail' they are clearning a lot of trees, having cleared big patches on the easterly stretch last year. If they carry on at this rate it'll be Salcey Coppice soon instead of Salcey Forest!

Helen's favourite bird is the Long-tailed Tit, seen here:

Or the 'badger bird' as we call it. There were loads of these gregarious birds in the wood, all calling to each other as they go about their business. They tend to follow humans and watch them as much as they themselves are watched.

In addition to the Long-tailed Tits, Salcey also houses a large number of Coal Tits, another woodland specialist:

The Coal Tit has that distinctive headstripe. All around Salcey too are large numbers of Marsh Tits, distinctine from Willow Tits primarily in voice, but also in their 'bib' size and the smooth neck:

Finally on the walk back to the car park, this female Reed Bunting was looking confused sat in a bush by the path:

I was surprised to see a Reed Bunting in the forest, possibly why the bird looked confused too?

The Forestry Commission now charge £2 for parking at Salcey but you get a pound off food and drink at the cafe (the 3-bean Chili on jacket spud is excellent) which seems to have worked for the Commission and the cafe, we'd never seen the wood so busy.

From Salcey we stopped off to feed the ducks at Ravensthorpe before heading up to do a 5-mile loop close to Hanging Houghton. The weather turned and from brilliant warming sunshine we developed an overcast afternoon with a very cold wild blowing, the temperature dropped away quite quickly.

The combination of the wind and a couple of local shoots meant there was almost no bird life around, which was a shame as we were hoping to see the reported owls, but no such luck.

Sunday the sun was out again but time for some gardening. At one point I looked up and spotted three Siskin in the fruit trees, including this one:

Our first, recent, visitor must have been back on brought along the family this time :)

Labels: , , , , ,