28 December 2005
My son, Charles (Charlie) Francis, was born on 22nd December 2006 at 9.20pm, a beautiful baby boy and the most wonderful moment of my life. This is a clear winner, and dwarfs any birding news. However...
There have been two new birds in my garden of late (as you might imagine, I haven't done any 'real' birding since 22nd December!). The first is a striking male Blackcap which has been a regular every day for the last week or so (allowing me to test my new camera, albeit at extreme range from the bedroom window). We have had one of these in the garden each winter we have been here, but they never lose their power to thrill as one of our few winter warblers.
Second has been the pair of Bullfinches which have graced our garden on several occasions, attacking our fruit trees but not yet reaching the bird table. These are also occasional visitors with the power to brighten up any day.
Addendum: Dec 31st - a Jay landed on our trellis today, a welcome garden 'first'. There aren't many mature trees around this part of the village, making this bird a rare occurence locally. Sadly it didn't hang around long enough to have its photo taken.
22 December 2005
At Napton I found mostly usual suspects - a Kingfisher gave particularly nice views. Later that day I read that the Bearded Tit had been found in the reedbeds there, but sadly not by me.
At Draycote I got the briefest views of a pale Hawfinch (not enough to get the photo I sought), plus yet another Great Northern Diver, a female Sparrowhawk (killing a Blackbird and making everything else decidedly jittery) and a few other odds and sods.
So no photo of a Hawfinch then, but to make up for that, here is a splendid shot taken a couple of weeks ago at Draycote by my colleague James.
6 December 2005
It got even better after that. Along with a handful of Lesser Redpoll we found at least three Mealy or Common Redpoll, pale and pinky little things which attracted quite an admiring crowd.
Out on the water we found a drake Goldeneye along with the usual waterfowl and gulls, and a Muntjak Deer put on a nice show for us to round off the day.
Cue rain, dark skies and lousy light of course, but I enjoyed the experience just the same.
First of all I went back to Brandon to photograph the Bittern. I set up the camera facing a short channel across which the bird had been seen several times (including by myself on Sunday). I sat and watched for 90 minutes, the whole experience reminding me of fishing when I was a boy... just sitting and watching one point, waiting for something to happen. And, rather like fishing when I was a boy, nothing did happen. Zip, zilch, nada.
Still, I got to watch a Kingfisher, a Sparrowhawk and a Jay, so not a total waste, and on the way back to the car I got glimpses of a Water Rail. Not a bad haul (not a single photo though!)
1 December 2005
Actually it was an OK morning. Certainly it was grey, wet and windy, but not too seriously so. And certainly there wasn't the excitement of last Sunday morning - although the Hawfinches are still around (up to five apparently) I chose not to spend too long looking for them.
Instead I did a quick circuit of Draycote (in so far as one can do a quick five mile circuit), and found a few Goosander, a couple of Goldeneye, 120 or more Golden Plover flying overhead, and then up to 100 Lapwing.
At Toft Shallows I stopped at the hide for the briefest digiscoping session (too dull for serious photography, but here's a picture of a Robin anyway). And then I headed off to Napton Reservoir, a new location for me, but one which came to my attention last week when a pair of Bearded Tits were found there. The reservoir is very close to my house, so I took the opportunity to pop by. It's a good looking spot, with a reasonable amount of deep open water, mature hedging and farmland all around, plus a fabulously large reedbed at the back (hence the beardies I suppose).
No sign of much today (the high wind will have kept any Bearded Tits hunkered down low in the reeds) but I imagine I will be a fairly frequent visitor here from now on. But the highlight of the day was in a neighbour's garden - as I stared out into the gathering rain and gloom, a female Kestrel (young, I think) flew on to a nearby fence with a tiny vole in her claws. After sitting for a while she stuffed the vole between a fence and fencepost, presumably for later consumption, before flying off to make the most of the last few hours of daylight.
27 November 2005
With Hawfinch sightings in Warwickshire being a rarity indeed (often just one or two a year) this was a fantastic find, but then when we left via the country park, we were able to spot a second bird, a beautiful male giving fantastic lingering views. A brilliant experience all round.
Normally that would be enough for any one day, but the double lure of breakfast and a reported Bittern at Brandon was enough to convince me to press on. Breakfast was fanastic, and then, after 20 minutes waiting in East Pool Hide, the Bittern moved, stalking left to right across a specially cut channel. Smashing. Then, from the far side of the water, I watched (and grabbed a record photo) while it adopted its camouflage position - head straight up in the air, totally still. Then it was off for a slow flight across the whole water before dropping down in Newlands.
What an amazing morning.
20 November 2005
After a few busy weeks with little or no time for birding, I was up at the crack of dawn today and down to Draycote by 7.20am. The mist was a real pea-souper, and to start with I could see only a short distance to the very edge of the water. Gradually things improved, and I found most of the usual winter birds - large numbers of Coot, Moorhen, Tufties, Wigeon, Lapwing etc. I was also pleased to find my first winter Goosander (2) and Goldeneye (perhaps a dozen in all).
On the far side (Draycote Bank) I discovered a Great Northern Diver - a wonderful bird that when feeding actually spends more of its time beneath water than above it. I've often mused on which environment it would call home, given the choice.
Anyway, despite my six warm layers (including a fab new padded army jacket), I was in need of some warmth and nourishment after a couple of hours. So I headed off to nearby Brandon Marsh for a hearty breakfast, and then ventured out for a final hour's birding. Three Snipe, a Sparrowhawk, a Common Gull and my first Fieldfare of the season were among the highlights, along with a fox which we watched prowl the far bank for five minutes or more.
13 November 2005
I had one bird very much in mind this morning, and found it almost immediately - Redpoll. Three darker birds (Lesser) and one pale, almost frosted bird (Mealy?) were feeding off wiry grasses, surrounded by Blue and Great Tits. Although Redpoll are not uncommon in the winter, I don't see too many of them - indeed these were my first for 2005. Such long and clear views were a real treat.
As I moved along the river I found plenty more to be pleased with - Redwing feeding in the hawthorn trees, a splendid male Bullfinch attacking berries with gusto, Goldcrest hopping frantically through the trees, and a male Reed Bunting - another common but hard-to-find-in-these-parts bird.
The scrape was empty, so I headed across the fields up to Offchurch, the neighbouring village. I found few birds but enjoyed the walk enormously.
30 October 2005
About 20 people were there in all, from all across the country and of all ages and levels of birding experience. Together they were good value for a day out at one of the RSPB's finest reserves.
I arrived at 9am, and by 9.15am we had found one of the Yellow-Browed Warblers that have invaded the country this autumn - at last! This gorgeous little bird proved to be the only lifer of the day, but that is not to say there weren't other treasures along the way.
Out at sea were some Velvet Scoters among the Common Scoters, a Red-throated Diver, two Eiders, and then a Fulmar and two Gannets flew by. In scrub land near the car park we enjoyed the briefest views of a male Ring Ouzel, and on the pools a normally-elusive Jack Snipe fed busily but visibly, bobbing in characteristic style. Although I have no photos of him, above is one of many Common Snipes that fed nearby.
I am normally a solitary birder, but this group day was great fun. The organisers, should they be reading this, have my thanks.
26 October 2005
Instantly found myself surrounded by a tit flock - as well as Great and Blue Tits I managed to locate a Goldcrest, a couple of Wrens and a Robin.
Out in the fields I found a Kestrel posing high on a dead tree, joined for a few moment by a sleek Mistle Thrush with its dry, churring call. Scores of Redwing flew hither and thither overhead.
The chur of the thrush was quickly replaced by the harsh 'yaffle' of a Green Woodpecker which almost landed on me as it came flying round a nearby hedge.
Finally, a quick look at the stream on my way back turned up my Star Bird of the Day - a Grey Wagtail, fighting with a Robin by the waterside. Wonderful - if you add the Kingfisher from Monday's lunchtime stroll it's not been a bad week for stolen moments.
23 October 2005
On Paget's Pool there were a dozen or so Gadwall, a couple of Tufties, and the usual array of Mallards, Coots and Moorhens. Persistently diving between them were three splendid Little Grebe.
The first pleasant surprise was a Snipe feeding on one of the central islands. The second was a Green Woodpecker, drinking at the water's edge and posing perfectly - it was one of those moments for which cameras were invented. Sadly my kit was at home, so I'll make do with my memory.
The third surprise wasn't a bird as such, but rather the promise of future birds. The council have put three Barn Owl boxes up in on the rough grasslands in the centre of the park. This is perfect habitat for Barn Owls so fingers crossed for occupants in the future - I have only seen these superb creatures in East Anglia and would dearly love to find one on my own patch.
16 October 2005
I started at the southern tip of the valley, at Whitacre local nature reserve, and quickly found Green Woodpeckers, two Jays, a Willow Tit and some Goldcrest. I then discovered that leaving my wellies at home was a big mistake. With all the main paths flooded, I headed off to Kingsbury instead.
Kingsbury Water Park is a very different kettle of fish - a huge municipal park covering a dozen or more pools, the river on one side and a canal on the other. Good (unflooded) paths lead to several bird hides, and although water levels were generally too high for waders, some patience was rewarded when up to six Snipe eventually showed themselves.
I then headed north again, this time on foot, walking up to Dosthill pits. Nothing of huge note here, except the huge flocks of Canada Geese and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A couple of Linnet were a nice find, as were eight Redwing, my first of the season, flying low overhead.
11 October 2005
An exciting morning's birding was just what I needed to help me get away from DIY hell - unfortunately no one told the birds. As I met birder after birder, the story was the same. The rest of the UK may be awash with Yellow Browed Warblers, Cream Coloured Coursers and Laughing Gulls, but south and mid Warwickshire seem to have missed out for now.
Still, nil desperadum. A Black-tailed Godwit was the one visitor of real note at Brandon (a rare visitor to this particular site) and an obliging male Sparrowhawk gave me a great photo opportunity that really made my morning.
2 October 2005
Having wandered through most of the Leam Valley reserve with little to show, I headed up to the Offchurch Bury weir. And there, picking its way through the reeds and willow scrub was this pale juvenile warbler.
After ten minutes or so of tantalising glimpses, it finally showed properly - with its wide 'spoon' like tail, black-tipped primaries, longish bill and plain face. A splendid bird on a patch with so little in the way of reedbeds.
That was a turning point in the morning, and in short order I then connected with a Grey Wagtail, a Kingfisher, a Jay, a couple of Chiffchaffs, two Swallows and a House Martin - the last three being fairly late-staying summer migrants.
1 October 2005
Things were quiet in the fields surrounding my house, but just as I was hankering after the wide open spaces of East Anglia (or alternatively a nice bacon sandwich) three Buzzards flew low overhead to put on the most amazing display.
I know these birds well, and have watched them from that hilltop many times, but they never lose their majesty, grace or power. As they glided away (harried by a couple of unhappy Jackdaws), a female Kestrel dropped in, first hovering nearby then sliding in on the strong winds, finally coming to rest on a nearby fence.
Beautiful birds both, and enough, along with a pair of late Barn Swallows and two Sky Lark singing against a crisp blue sky, to put a spring in anyone's step. The bacon sarnie was nice as well.
29 September 2005
It was not Cley, however, which produced our first thrill of the day. Instead it was breakfast in Hunstanton - no, not the sausages, but a young male Ring Ouzel in the back garden of our B&B.
This was the first 'rouzel' I'd ever seen, and it was clearly identifiable by the pale cresent on its chest (otherwise, to all intents and purposes, this thrush is identical in appearance to a Blackbird). I was delighted (and thus made a berk of myself by 'shouting' it to a room full of disinterested breakfasters - ho hum).
A great start to the day then, and Cley did not disappoint.
The grey weather soon cleared and we were into a good array of migrant birds - a Whimbrel, Wheatear, Whinchat and more Spotted Redshank being among the highlights (plus the Common Redshank in the photo, above left). Half-a-dozen Egyptian Geese were a nice find (above right), as was the Marsh Harrier flying low over the reeds - a magnificent sight of which one could never get bored.
24 September 2005
We arrived Friiday lunchtime and headed straight to the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. Bang - straight into my first Red-Necked Phalarope and the weekend's off to a flier!
Along with this very rare wader there was also a Temminck's Stint, some Curlew Sandpiper, a Marsh Harrier, Golden and Grey Plover, six female Pintail and two Little Egret. A lifer, some reasonably rare waders and an assortment of other favourites. Could the day get any better?
Well yes, it did. We popped into the Mariner pub for a pint on the way back to teh B&B, only to find a Barn Owl patrolling the field opposite. I even managed a rushed photograph as a record.
Thank you, birding gods. Dinner certainly went down well last night.
Today (Saturday) was still better in once sense at least - the weather was glorious. We headed off to a couple of places we'd never visited before - Wells Woods and then Holme. Wells was a lovely walk, but nothing too exciting on the birding front. Loads of Goldcrest (sadly no Firecrest or Yellow Browed Warbers among them), more Jays than I'd ever previously seen in one place, Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Long-tailed and Coal Tits and a Great Spotted Woodpecker represented the highlights of the morning.
So off we headed to the Holme reserve. We were expecting a lot, but to be honest, the less said about the birding here the better. I've rarely encountered fewer birds.
So it was back to Titchwell to round the day off with something a little more interesting. This we acheived with Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and a long spell watching a Sparrowhawk flap-flap-glide high over the pools.
Time for a well-deserved curry.
18 September 2005
Just because the Blue Tit is one of our most common garden birds, it doesn't make it any less stunning. Good looks, interesting behavious and bags of personality all add up to make the Blue Tit a fabulous creature in anyone's book - and I am well chuffed with this photo.
11 September 2005
Then I met an acquaintance who advised me of a Yellow Browed Warbler he'd just found on the opposite side of the reservoir, plus Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff. Later I browsed the internet to discover that a Pectoral Sandpiper had been added to the day list. Good job I'm not competitive - talk about missing out!
8 September 2005
Ironically, for the first time this summer a pair of Hobby flew through last night - no doubt wondering where their favourite prey items had gone. Just too late fellas!
Footnote: It's now Friday 9th September, and the Swallows and martins were high over the garden again this morning, chattering furiously as they fed. One last hurrah for the summer?
Footnote 2: It's now Friday, 16th September, and with the temperature starting to drop, they're still around - albeit in much smaller numbers. The House Martins are still near their nests at the far end of the village, a handful flying around the houses this afternoon. You can also still find the occasional Swallow in the village, but these are likely to be birds moving down from the north, rather than our original 'village' birds.
Footnote 3: OK, so this is getting silly. Wednesday, 21st September and the last few House Martins in the village are still here. Presumably a late, or second, brood must be about to fledge and move on - otherwise they are leaving it very late indeed.
5 September 2005
Both are signs that the birds (both from the hirundine family) are gathering in numbers to feed, build up strength and prepare for their long journey home - the House Martins to north west Africa and the Swallows all the way to South Africa.
4 September 2005
There were Green Woodpeckers, skies full of Swallows and House Martins gathering food and strength for their long flight home to Africa, Chiffchaff, a male Blackcap, three Kingfishers (great views of one as close as 10 metres), and five Moorhen (including one youngster).
A Common Sandpiper was only my second for the area, so too a Little Egret, seemingly hooked up with a young Grey Heron for company.
And the highlight of the morning? A Grey Wagtail, my first for the patch. Replendent in is grey and yellow plumage, it preened and stretched for a minute or so, sitting on a discarded piece of metal in a nearly-dried muddy pool not far from the river.
29 August 2005
First up, the Ospreys for which Rutland is renowned. No sign of their 'homegrown' birds, the pair which have raised three young here this year. Instead I was treated to wonderful views of one of the youngsters that have been translocated here from Scotland this year. An excellent lifer, and long overdue.
Second were the Curlew Sandpipers. These were at the far side of the reservoir, feeding with Ruff and Dunlin, the latter making for a tricky half-hour of identification. However, eventually I was able to confirm to myself which were Dunlin and which Curlew Sands - the elongated and more curved bills, longer legs and bodies, and perhaps most notably of all, their pale cream supercillums (stripes above the eyes). These are amazing birds, having so recently bred in a short summer on the very edge of the Siberian arctic. The adults have gone through to Africa already, and here were the juveniles following on. And for me, that made two lifers in a day!
There were other good birds around too - a Greenshank, a Black-tailed Godwit, several Green Sandpiper and perhaps a dozen Snipe for example. All signs that return passage (autumn migration) is well underway, and contributors to a great day's birding.
28 August 2005
Abberton is splendid, a huge water just south of Colchester, boasting a first class visitor centre and a track record of rare birds.
When I arrived I found a group of twitchers looking for a White-Winged Tern. Sadly they had no luck, but I was much easier to please - the flock of 20 or so Black Terns that were clearly on display represented a lifer for me!
18 August 2005
After a full day's DIY on Saturday (just about the polar opposite of serene in my book) I headed off on this particular Sunday morning to two favoured local reserves. First up was Draycote Reservoir, where although it was a little cold, I was delighted to walk straight into 7 or 8 Yellow Wagtails, lovely birds which I rarely find anywhere but here. The last were in April, dropping in on their migration north, and now here were the fruits of that long journey - mostly juvenile birds on their way south for the first time. This bird is becoming increasingly hard to find, so it is always nice to find young uns.
Other birds at Draycote included an Oystercatcher, 4 Common Sandpipers (again returning south), a Swift (there are none left in my village now so sightings are becoming sporadic, Swifts being early returners to their African wintering grounds), a Sparrowhawk (great views as it flew in low over my head) and a Hobby (rubbish views of its tail disappearing over some trees).
I then moved on to Brandon Marsh where, finally, I found the female Common Scoter that had been there for a week or so - a lifer for me!
Alongside this bird there was a Kingfisher, another Common Sandpiper, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, a pair of Lesser Black-Backed Gulls with their huge chick, and the last two Common Terns, their chick now old enough to fly but still reluctant. I would guess the three of them will be heading south again within a fortnight if not a week.
Autumn is well and truly upon us.
9 August 2005
Of a recently recorded Common Scoter there was no sight, but I was soon enjoying watching the Lapwing (more than 270 in all), a Common Tern pair feeding a plump little chick, plenty of Grey Heron, assorted wildfowl, Coot and Moorhen (most with chicks), juvenile Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff feeding in the willow scrub, and best of all, two Green Sandpiper down on the Newlands scrape.
With good light and my new digiscoping gear to hand, this was an evening for photography. First up were the terns, adult and juvenile.
Then I turned by attention to the Green Sandpipers, lovely little birds with brilliant white underparts and rumps, and a distinctive bobbing action as they walk.
And finally, to set the seal on a lovely evening, a Kingfisher flew into a nearby perch to pose for me. The light had faded a little by then, but I was still able to take my best-ever pictures of this fabulous little ball of colour.
8 August 2005
Some are better adapted to flycatching than others, but all were determined not to miss out on this annual harvest.
7 August 2005
Today was the exception to prove that rule.
A three-hour walk around Leam Valley, Welches Meadow and Newbold Comyn turned up just about nothing. Highlights? I wish. Perhaps three Grey Heron on the scrape, and having the time and opportunity to take my first decent pictures of a Wood Pigeon (one of the most common birds in this part of the world, so I've never bothered before).
Still, bring on autumn passage.
31 July 2005
The adaptor worked brilliantly, but sadly the light wasn't all that it could have been. Still, I managed some reasonable pictures of a Great Crested Grebe chick, a male Ruddy Duck (one of two on site, with a female), and two Snipe, feeding on East Marsh Pool.
Apart from these birds it was a quiet morning, but I did linger to enjoy good numbers of Lapwing, a Lesser Black-Backed Gull pair with two juveniles, a few Green Woodpecker, and a family of Kestrels (male, female and juvenile) playing together near the Carlton Hide.
30 July 2005
Because of this I was delighted to see two birds, and hear several more calling. One thing that you can't accuse the Corn Bunting of doing is skulking - they have a preference for high, obvious song posts - telegraph wires in this case.
On to Cubbington, where the wood itself was deathly quiet - none of the usual woodland suspects.
The hedges and fields around it threw up better birds - a family of 8 or more Tree Sparrows (including juveniles, and my first 'treeps' in this area), various warblers (Chiffchaff including young, Whitethroat and a female Blackcap with a juvenile), at least four Buzzards at a nearby site (three flying low out of woods calling loudly and another calling from within), Yellowhammer and Green Woodpecker.
Good butterflies too, with Painted Lady, Peacock, Red Admiral and Gatekeeper among the few I was able to identify.
28 July 2005
Last year it was Starlings not House Martins but they were doing exactly the same thing - catching the large number of flying ants which have evidently just hatched. Due to the slow airspeed of these insects, the birds catching them behave in an unusual manner, slowing right down to pluck them from the sky, almost stalling as they hover for a few micro seconds to feed. And it is not just Starlings and martins that behave in this manner - I have seen House Sparrows do likewise on other occasions (also when the Mayflys first appear over the nearby River Leam, a month or so earlier).
The similarity of habit between these very different birds species is amazing, as is the coincidence of date. Last year I noted the Starling behaviour over my garden on July 27th, and today's display was of course on July 28th.
24 July 2005
I walked all around the fields of Radford Semele, a combination of arable and sheep farming land with some areas of scrub, good shaggy hedges and a couple of farm ponds. Just about everything I was hoping for turned up - Linnet, Sky Lark (despite the iffy weather), Buzzard, Whitethroat, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, loads of Yellowhammer (more than 20 in all), a male Sparrowhawk gliding into some scrubby woodland near the village pond, and perhaps best of all, half a dozen or more Tree Sparrow (also know as 'treeps' by some), including some youngsters. These are much much rarer than they should be, and to see them so close to home is a real treat.
22 July 2005
Tonight we arrived to find a Little Egret patrolling the margins, a wonderful bird giving great views.
One of its most notable characteristics is that although its long legs are black, its feet are bright yellow (when they are not covered with mud!). The overall impression is of a skinny ballerina in yellow socks. This is quite striking and fascinating to look at, as is the birds habit of agitating the mud with his feet to stir up food items. I could watch them for hours, and tonight I did.
18 July 2005
This year, for whatever reason, we managed to miss out on most of the birdlife, but enjoyed our holiday nevertheless. There were some birding highlights however - Redstart in the New Forest, Sand Martin and Little Egret at Poole Harbour, a brief glimpse of Pied Flycatcher in Yarner Wood, Devon, and plenty of Wheatear on nearby Dartmoor.
These Swallows on our Devon campsite were also wonderful to watch, swooping low around the tent and perching on a nearby farm gate.
17 July 2005
Green Sandpiper have been breeding in the far north and east for the last few months (Arctic Circle? Siberia? too lazy to look it up I'm afraid). Now they are on their way south again and there is every chance of finding them in shallow water across the UK. There were two today on the Teal Pool, although I'm sure there are more around - Brandon is a well-known spot for them.
Less expected was the Little Egret that first perched high in a tree overlooking East Marsh Pool, and then flew down to feed. These wonderful white heron-like birds disperse widely after breeding, and there are a fair few around on inland freshwater sites at the moment. But even so, this is far from a common bird in these parts - only my second ever in Warwickshire.
To deal with this, some birders go abroad for their kicks. Some make summer their season of DIY (in order to build up credit with him / her in doors and earn more free time during the excitement of autumn migration). And others turn their attention to non-avian natural history.
Sadly, my knowledge of wider flora and fauna is limited, but I am trying to tackle this with enthusiasm if not ability. A couple of quick pictures to show the marvels that are out there if you look properly.
First a stoat - I found a family of these playing in nearby woods a few weeks ago, a thrilling find that captivated me totally for the few minutes they were in view.
Second, a Gatekeeper, not a rare butterfly, but the first one I have taken to the trouble to look at seriously and identify. There are plenty in my garden at the moment, confirmation perhaps that my wildlife garden is finally taking proper shape!