Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spring has sprung!

Sunshine! Warmth! What will they think of next? Finally Spring proper so we decided on an early (for us) start and were out by 8am. Ravensthorpe looked very quiet so having fed the feral ducks and Mallards there, we headed over to Thrapston and Titchmarsh Local Nature Reserve. We got there just as the conservation volunteers were meeting up for their monthly work. They do a fantastic job in maintaining and improving the habitat at Titchmarsh, which is a lovely spot, one we really enjoy visiting.

First up was a Cetti's Warbler 'singing' loudly from a bramble bush. No sign of the bird but an unmistakable song (see last April for a photo of a Cetti's taken in France - Garden Birds and other sightings...: France Holiday - Day 1). We heard six Cetti's singing around Titchmarsh. On the water's edge a few Greylag Geese were about, I like the way the light caught this one:

We walked clockwise around the reserve and into the woodland. The air was full of bird song, with singing birds seemingly all around us. This Willow Warbler was posing high in a Willow tree:

As well as Willow Warblers, there were large numbers of very similar looking Chiffchaffs:

Can you tell the difference? I rely on their song. A little further along still and this male Bullfinch sat still long enough for me to take a picture:

I have wanted a decent Bullfinch photo for some time, and am delighted with this one! Would have been ever better had it been facing toward the camera rather than away...

The other bird present in abundance was the Sedge Warbler. Males were singing from all around, and seemed in particular to like the Hawthorn trees. We must have seen 30 or 40 Sedge Warblers, many doing their song flight. The songs themselves included mimicry of Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes that we heard.

As with bird song, blossom was everywhere, including this Apple tree:

Heading back to the car park and completing the circuit of Titchmarsh, we spotted this Barnacle Goose - I thought they were supposed to migrate North to breed?

Off the path, toward the lake, there was much Cowslip, a now uncommon wild flower:

Another row of Hawthorns, and more Sedge Warblers (click on the pic, this is a handsome bird):

From Titchmarsh we headed to Stanwick Lakes for a cuppa and some lunch. It was unsurprisingly busy with people so we didn't get to see much bird life. A couple of Common Terns were swooping over the water and we saw a lone Swift, our first of the year, but nothing much else stood out. We departed Stanwick quite quickly and headed to Summer Leys LNR. From the main hides all you could really see were Black-headed Gulls, so we decided on a clockwise walk around the nature reserve.

On the old railway line we spotted this Peacock butterfly, settled in ground ivy:

We saw at least three other species of Butterfly during the afternoon, but they're not really my speciality...

Walking along the path, we flushed a blue-backed bird, which as it took off immediately brought to mind a Sparrowhawk. We were quickly disabused when said bird, now some 50-100 yards ahead and behind some bushes made a loud 'cuckoo' noise which it repeated. Something Sparrowhawks aren't famous for...

We've had a Cuckoo in our garden, calling from a tree but, since we started watching birds we've not actually seen one, so this is an addition to our list :)

The Cuckoo flew from the bush and alighted on the ground, looking for food I presume. I didn't know Cuckoos spent any time on the ground, I do now!

Then it settled in a bush about 40 yards away. At this point I was really kicking myself for having changed lenses from the 600x + 1.4x (840x) to the 100x-400x, as the image was never going to be as sharp as it might have been. Still, not only have we now seen a Cuckoo, we've seen one really clearly and watched it for a good five minutes too :)

The next stop was the feeding station at Summer Leys. This Tree Sparrow was watching proceedings, consisting mostly of two Woodpigeons doing an impression of a vacuum cleaner on the seed trays:

The day had more surprises in store for us, a female Brambling popped out to feed, you can see her here alongside this Greenfinch:

I was sure the Bramblings should have headed north to breed by now? The Siskins in our garden have been gone for over a fortnight. Maybe this one decided it was worth hanging around for the easy meals?

Heading back towards the car park, and around the scrapes we were watching a pair of Common Terns performing pair bonding behaviours, when this very leggy wader landed beside them and then wandered along the water's edge. I though based on the size of the bird and the up-curved bill that it might have been a Bar-tailed Godwit, but expert opinion suggests a Greenshank (thanks to Bob and Simon for the ID):

It's a poor quality picture because of the distance involved, but I've posted it because the bird looks 'different'.

The last bird of the day was this Little Ringed Plover, a summer migrant wader, and a very small bird:

And now for that trip to India I've been trying not to think about...

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

very quiet...

well at least we thought it was... very little migration has been recorded through Northants before this weekend. Saturday we pootled around in the garden, topped up the food then sat back and watched. You can see here a Starling queueing for the fat block feeder:

and here clinging on whilst being harassed by other very vocal Starlings:

The top photograph was taken with a fast shutter speed to get good feather detail, but then had to be lighted by +2.0 to make the image visible. The second photo is set for optimum light, hence the blur due to a slower shutter speed.

The Collared Doves are getting frisky:

and Mrs B (one of the four regulars anyway) was mooching around on the grass, looking for invertebrates:

We think the Robins have a brood they are feeding already, we don't normally see them tucking in on the hanging feeders, they typically prefer ground food:

A pair of Stock Doves appear to heave taken up residence, perhaps they're using the Tawny Owl box we put up?

On Sunday we decided to do the first of our Timed Tetrads during the breeding season (Spring/Summer). The weather was seasonably crap, that is damp, drizzly, grey and windy. The good news is these conditions deter other humans, that combined with the requested early morning only visits put us at Holowell reservoir just after 8am on Sunday... the place was buzzing with birds, signing, displaying, building nests, etc. The highlight for us was the Grasshopper Warbler we very clearly heard, but we couldn't actually see it...

When we got home we checked out the county bird reports ( We were of course delighted that a number of passage migrants, some quite unusual, had been observed throughout the county, with the unfortunate exception of where we had been - too early at Hollowell, close to Ravensthorpe but we didn't have any food with us so didn't stop in, and then at home for the rest... not jealous at all, not even one little bit, well maybe just a little actually. Also next weekend involves a very long flight to the east coast of India on business, so I'm unlikely to be doing any birding or blogging for a couple of weeks :(

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kentish shore

A weekend visit to family in Kent and an opportunity to have a walk somewhere completely different. Our hosts had chosen a walk on the shore near High Halstow. The weather, being April was mixed, mixed wind and rain that is :)

We did manage to dodge the rain bits on the walk, but not the fierce winds, and on reflection a clockwise walk would have been better to avoid the head-on winds we experienced for half the walk.

As you can see from this picture, the land is quite flat and open, and therefore the area has 'big skies' made more dramatic by the cloud formations:

We spotted a number of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits doing their distinctive song-flights along the walk but the wind was keeping most birds' heads down.

On the shoreline itself we spotted this flock of (mostly) breeding/summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits:

They took wing:

And settled within an even larger flock, including the odd Curlew, about three-quarters of a mile along the shore, in a relatively protected bay:

We've not seen this number of Godwits concentrated together before and it was a impressive sight. With the passing rain clouds, the light kept changing, I like the dark silvery light reflected from the wet mud in the bay:

Heading back to the car, and out of the wind, this Blackthorn tree was just starting to burst into flower, I imagine within a week it'll be covered in blossom:

During winter I expect this area could host large flocks of wintering geese and swans due to the large grass fields and in autumn I expect the mud flats could host some interesting migrant waders, returning from their breeding in the Arctic.

We tried out a local RSPB reserve but found, after quite a long walk, that it was closed, I expect the Heronry has been harmed in some way or interfered with so the pathways are blocked off, which was a shame as we'd have like to have seen the Herons and Egrets nesting there. We did enjoy the walk though and retired for wine and evening of darts!

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

A wintry weekend

Where is Spring? The hedge is growing again, the dutch bluebells have come out under the lime trees, birds are flying hither and tither with nesting material, but it's raining, sleeting and then snowing again!

Saturday we (Helen, one of her sisters and I) decided upon a walk around the nature reserve at Pitsford, as it has hides (for dodging showers) and the chance of some spring migrants. On the way round we saw a good number of Barn Swallows, some 20 - 30, we heard and then saw a singing Blackcap. A couple of ladies had spotted an Osprey which had flown over our heads, but we had missed it, thankfully it re-appeared a few minutes later over the water, albeit briefly.

The number of Chiffchaffs continue to rise, including this chap singing ahead of us above the path (you may need to scroll the picture down):

About halfway around the promised showers arrived - in fact a near unbroken three hour rain 'shower' which kept the birds very quiet and led to a trudge around the second half of the reserve then home to plant out some more plants into the garden.

Sunday we headed to Wakerley Great Wood, which is an unusual woodland in that the trees appear to be planted in clusters, of say Silver Birch or Larch, etc. However none of the clusters appear sufficient to provide a habitat for their associated cohabitants, therefore the wood is much quieter than you might expect, in fact the best spot tends to be around the car park as it is less 'managed' and therefore more suitable for wildlife and bird life in particular. We did spot a number of spring flowers though, including Primrose:

From Wakerley we headed to Fineshade Wood and toward the facilities there (including an excellent lunch, in terms of both value and content). Over the fields flew a couple of Red Kites, including this one:

Then it was time to head for home. Around the walks and the weather the garden is very busy. We still have between 10 and 20 individual Siskins visiting the garden every day (when do they go North to breed?), including this chap:

The female Siskin is watching the descent of sunflower seed she has just dropped:

Over winter we saw very few Reed Buntings, now we have six in every day, three pairs, including this well marked female:

The local squirrel is getting bolder. He's in attack mode here, though I have no idea what he's seen or reacting to:

Finally the cutest sight thus far this spring, these two very juvenile wild Rabbits emerging from a hole underneath our Buddlea. The adult bunnies appear to have driven off the group of Brown Rats that had moved in, which is a result, however the local cats have in the last week killed at least one rabbit and an adult Starling, so we have to keep an eye out whenever we can to chase them off. Still it is really good to see this very clear sign of Spring, and they are SO cute :)

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

(not) Spring 08 holiday, the last day

The last day of the holiday, always bittersweet, as you know it's time to start thinking about work again and the chores, etc. yet still how to get the best from the last day? We originally planned two half-hour stops on the way home, one in Thetford forest in an attempt to see Goshawk and one at Welney WWT perhaps for lunch. Helen had other ideas...

Our first stop was indeed in Thetford Forest at Brandon Country Park (you're advised to park here as there have been a number of car break-ins at the Mayday Farm car park), whereupon we decided to do a six mile walk, which I did manage to reduce to five miles en route :)

We didn't see Goshawk but did see Kestrels and Sparrowhawks. The woods were very busy with Goldcrests, flocks of Tits, drumming Woodpeckers, etc. Part of the wood has been cut down to create a heathland habitat. It's only recently been created but already it is working. We had fantastic views of a Woodlark:

The bird was singing away and hopping around, a real pleasure to experience and from a bird that up to this point we'd found really hard to hear, let alone see.

From Thetford we popped into Weeting Heath, where there were already five Stone Curlews, mostly relaxing in the sun, at quite a distance from the hide but clearly visible in a telescope. From Weeting Heath we went to Lakenheath Fen ( which was hosting a family open day. I really enjoy Lakenheath Fen, even though I've seen neither the Common Cranes there nor the Golden Orioles... but it is a wonderful spot. Once a poplar plantation for future matchsticks, then a carrot field, now a nature reserve attracting growing numbers of scarce birds, including the Cranes in 2007, Bearded Tits, Bitterns, Marsh Harriers, etc. A three mile loop walk didn't produce any good images but I was amazed to see many hundreds of gulls settled on the lake, which two years ago had hosted a few Mallards and Mute Swans. There's a new visitor centre too which illustrates very graphically just how little habitat of this type and quality remains in the UK or indeed Europe, it's actually quite shocking to see.

From Lakenheath and with eight unexpected miles under the belt we headed home to see what had happened in the garden. It was very quiet, and here's the reason why:

A great holiday along the 'bird coast', a little early perhaps for Spring migration proper but we did get to see some fantastic sights, drink some good local ales and walk, a lot. Can't wait to go back, though next time we'll probably try for late April. Roll on our next holiday!

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(not) Spring 08 holiday, day 9

Our last full day of holiday and the sun is shining and the wind is down, ok rain is forecast for later but you never know!

We started out by driving to Dunwich village and parking at the beach car park, then walked along the south edge of RSPB's Dingle Marshes (, you can tell how some of the locals treat it by the number of spent shotgun cartridges lying around...

There are good numbers of both Meadow Pipits and Skylarks, this one took off close-by so I managed a snap before he got too high:

On the pools a number of ducks and waders, including this small group of Dunlin feeding:

There were at least four Little Egrets too, including this one that flew close-by:

At the end of Dingle Marshes we turned to walk along the edge of Walberswick Nature Reserve, though like Hickling Broad this is more a space for birds in summer and proved to be very quiet in respect of wildlife, however the noise level was high due to the continual gunfire (3 hours non-stop) from what we assume was some sort of shooting competition on a nearby estate, which made the eight mile walk a bit depressing again. If we can't have a total ban perhaps we could start with one weekend a year with no shooting, just one? We did see a pair of Marsh Harriers, including this male:

not a great picture but it does show the distinctive plumage clearly. A Cetti's sung really close-by and then made the very briefest of appearances. As there was so little about we completed the walk quite quickly so made first for nearby Dunwich Heath to try and get more pictures of male Dartford Warblers, but no bird song/PDA thingy and no birds... Next stop Sizewell to try and see a Black Redstart. We bumped into a couple of birders who'd been to Minsmere that morning to see the Bluethroat and were like us looking for a Black Redstart. We did get distant views of one on the other side of some impressive barbed wire fencing.

On the way back to the car park we noticed a large police van, with another pulling into the car park. I was challenged by an officer as to my business, so I told him about the Black Redstart and pointed out the conveniently placed information board that talks all about them. He replied by pointing out that he was part of the armed response unit that had been called in by site workers. I don't think the police were comfortable with four people dressed in 'outdoor wear' carrying binoculars, tripods, cameras, telescopes, etc. mooching around the perimeter of a nuclear power plant and if you're planning a trip to Sizewell or any other nuclear power station I'd bear that in mind at the moment.

We decided to move on swiftly and were running out of ideas so decided to head back to Minsmere for the end of the afternoon. The path to the Bluethroat (I wanted some more pictures this time taken in low wind and a constant light) was only passable in wellies and the route the other way would have taken the rest of the remaining light so we walked again to the Island Mere hide. We did spot this Chinese Water deer off the path, it looks so nervous:

Along the path another birder pointed out a Firecrest, it was moving too fast to photograph but was a stunning bird to see, and only our second sighting of one. On the water in front of the hide, this drake Teal, I think Teal plumage is beautiful:

There was female Common Scoter out on the water but too far for a decent photograph.

As the light faded we popped into the Bittern hide, but no Bitterns about, end of April through to early June is the best time to see them, whilst they're feeding young. We were however delighted with this Kingfisher, which perched in the reeds in front of the hide and stayed there for a good ten minutes, giving everyone in the hide a chance to move into the corner of the hide and have a good look:

That picture is worth a closer look. Our final sighting of the day, a group of Red Deer heading down to drink from the river in Minsmere at dusk, only one photograph came out due to the very low levels of light:

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