29 March 2005

Spring update

Just a quick update on the progress of spring birds in Warwickshire. I popped out yesterday to Brandon Marsh, a well-known local reserve, and spent a few hours soaking in the sights and sounds.

Chiffchaff sang loudly from everywhere - I estimate six in all. A few migrants waders had dropped in - Redshank and Oystercatcher were there yesterday (hopefully the latter will breed there successfully like they did last year). And last, but definitely not least, 15 or more Sand Martins fluttered quite high overhead, hoovering up the first of the spring insects.

If you're reading this in Britain and it's still spring, go for a walk in the woods. I insist. I promise you won't regret it.

27 March 2005

The arrival of Spring

Now is undoubtedly my favourite time of year bar none. By Easter weekend there are signs of Spring everywhere - bird song, buds on trees, daffodils and crocuses, a hundred lawnmowers going in every street. The only difficulty is being torn between the garden and birding - happily this weekend I have managed to fit in a lot of both.

In the garden, the beds have been dug through, plants moved, new beds dug out and planted, the veg is in, the lawn scarified, and everything looks ship-shape ready for the growing season.

With birding, I am a little less up to date. Already the first return migrants are in the country (and indeed in this county) but I am yet to connect. Chiffchaffs, Sand Martins, Wheatear and assorted waders have come back from Africa and are being reported all over the place, but here on my patch of semi-rural land near Leamington Spa, Spring is breaking out in infinitely more subtle ways.

Sky Lark and Meadow Pipit are trilling their songs high above the farmland. Cock Yellowhammer are singing in all their mustard finery. And everywhere birds go two by two - my best sighting of yesterday being two Tree Sparrow within a kilometre of my home. These wonderful little farmland birds seem sadly to be in long-term decline, so any sighting these days is enough to warm the heart. These were my first ever in Warwickshire, so fingers crossed for a successful, and fruitful, pairing.

20 March 2005

Birds are like buses?

Typical. I run around like a madman for three months trying to find Waxwing. When I finally find some (see below) I have a fab day photographing and enjoying these little marvels.

And then, just two days later, I'm just about to get into my car after a client meeting in Lichfield when I'm struck by a familiar sound. I look up, locate the source of the sound, and there are 25 Waxwing staring back at me.

Like so many things in life (such as waiting for buses), therein lies the mystery of it all. Often you'll not see a bird for weeks, months or even years. And then, once you've seen the first one, you'll be bumping into them for weeks to come.

Mind you, no complaints where Waxwing are concerned. Here's a couple more photographs to enjoy while I'm on the subject.

17 March 2005

The elusive Water Rail

The Water Rail dwells in reed beds, making it elusive at the best of times. Unlike the (perhaps a little similar) Moorhen or Coot, it generally eschews human beings, making it a hard to find bird unless you know the right spots.

One such spot is at a local nature reserve in Coleshill. Having not caught up with a single Water Rail for more than 18 months, I finally found this 'bogey' bird there last weekend. Not as hard as it sounds, mind you, because this bold bird is rather partial to feeding off scraps beneath a bird table.

Perhaps not as satisfying as watching one creep tentatively out of the reeds, but after so long without one, beggars really can't be choosers.

Waxwing in Warwickshire

This is a bit of a technology experiment, as well as being a post about some very exciting birds.

The birds? Well, after weeks of 'dipping' (a twitchers term for going looking for a specific bird and not finding it) I finally found Waxwing - loads of them in fact. A flock of this Siberian winter invader were at a nature reserve near Coleshill and at last afforded me the chance to take some pictures and simply enjoy the spectacle of these pink, crested and utterly unique birds.

And the technology? Well, this is the first time I've managed to get two photos into the same post. Probably won't mean much to you, but it's a major triumph for me and should help streamline the site in future.

14 March 2005

Waxwing in Warwickshire 2 Posted by Hello

Grey Heron Posted by Hello

Grey Heron - photography

OK, so this is starting to look like an obsession. That's three times I've posted on the subject of Grey Herons this month. But although I don't actually have an obession, there is plenty to be said in favour of the humble Grey Heron.

First, they are relatively common. Second, they are relatively large and easy to photograph. And third, when you get it right, they are absolutely stunning.

I think this is the first time I've got it right.

11 March 2005

Not just birds

The enduring appeal of birdwatching for those who love nature and natural history is partly that birds are so visible. Brightly coloured, reasonably sized and present just about everywhere you go, bird are easy to watch (at least in principle - try telling that to a birder who's just spent six fruitless hours in sub-zero temperatures trying to find a rare warbler or other LBJ (little brown job) lurking in the undergrowth!)

But once you spend any time birding, you begin, albeit slowly at first, to notice the other natural phenomenon around you. The trees, the wildflowers, the insects (whether biting you or not!) and , of course, the mammals. Mammal are endlessly fascinating to watch, as the enduring popularity of Big Cat Wildlife on One type programmes proves. Sadly, in Britain at least, they tend to be small, secretive and often nocturnal.

So each mammal encounter is special, and I have been lucky enough to have some wonderful moments watching them when out birding. Hares can be found near my house and at this time of year they are particulary exciting - breathless chases across fields, tumbling fights, lunacy of the highest order (Mad March Hares in fact). Watching an otter walk across a frozen pool at Minsmere in Suffolk is a particularly cherished memory.

And then, a few days ago, while enjoying a stolen moment or two out birding on my local patch, I came across a fox at closer range than ever before. As I watched a Moorhen on the local river, I moved by binoculars slowly upwards and there, staring back at me was the fox, just 10m or so away. I froze and we watched each other intently. As he looked away, I moved my tired arms, but froze again as he turned back. We continued this performance for five minutes or more before he finally got bored and trotted away into the undergrowth. Throughout the whole encounter I was staring deep into black eyes, watching that gently curving white patch around the mouth, and thinking to myself that this animal had a face which looked much more bear-like than its canine ancestory would suggest! Whatever it looked like, and from whatever it descended, it was part of yet another magic moment while out birding.

2 March 2005

Winter on a Scottish coast

A trip to Edinburgh presented a perfect opportunity to catch up on a few seabirds at nearby Musselburgh. The snow had almost vanished, the north wind dropped and the sun even came out as we enjoyed a genuinely thrilling day birding.

Alongside a whole host of wading bird (such as Curlew, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Turnstone) I also encountered several 'firsts' for me. These were a Red-throated Diver, several Slavonian Grebe, a flock of Velvet Scoter and some spectacular Long-tailed Ducks.

So much in fact, that I barely knew where to look first, and I was so busy that photography was the last thing on my mind for much of the time. Having said that, I did manage the odd shot. Above is a male Eider duck, a thing of real beauty. There is much to be said for local patch birding, but the occasional long-distance trip can expand one's birding horizons like nothing else.
Posted by Hello

The Grey Heron - familiar magnificence

The Grey Heron is a familiar bird on most kinds of water - whether it be river, stream, pond or lake. As with so many birds though, don't let its familarity blind you to its magnificence. As the following photo montage shows, not only is it a huge bird, but as it takes flight it takes a whole new form - am I alone in thinking dragon-like?
Posted by Hello

Grey Heron taking wing Posted by Hello