12 November 2006

Fieldfare and Sky Lark by the score

I have just enjoyed a beautiful morning walking around the fields near Radford Semele.

The hedgerows, fields and skies were full of finches, buntings, gulls, crows, thrushes and plenty more besides as a low pale sun battled to break through.

Early highlights included a Goldcrest in my garden and then a female Bullfinch and a couple of Reed Buntings not far away. At the pond I found a couple of Mallards plus a Moorhen, but it was as I started to walk up towards Crown Hill that things got very interesting indeed.

First one, then half a dozen then perhaps 50 or more Sky Lark flew over in small and not-so-small groups - at one point I counted 30 in the air at once. This would make it easily the largest Sky Lark count I have made here or indeed anywhere else.

At the bottom of the hill I had seen 19 Fieldfare fly overhead, but at the top I was confronted with in excess of 160 of them, some feeding on the ground must most flitting from tree to tree in large groups. Again, this is a pretty decent number to find at any time.

On the way back down the hill I counted perhaps a dozen Yellowhammers, a few Redwing, more than a dozen Meadow Pipits and a solitary Common Gull (a sure sign that winter is in Radford Semele).

5 November 2006

Sparrowhawks at Leam Valley

The Sparrowhawk is a common but elusive bird of prey which relies on the element of surprise in its attack. It is principally a woodland bird (although fairly common now in gardens and parks), able to twist fast and low through the undergrowth in order to surprise its prey - not just sparrows as it happens, but any suitably sized bird. For stealth, speed and manouverability in tight spaces it is unsurpassed.

The upshot of this lifestyle is that the Sparrowhawk is rarely seen, and so generally under recorded. Which makes today's walk around Leam Valley all the more unusual, with five (yes, count them, five) separate Sparrowhawk sightings.

First one flew high over me, following the line of the River Leam. Then, as I settled down in the hide for 30 minutes or so, I witnessed an attempted attack on three Redwings (unsuccessful) followed by a slow pass over the water, probably by the same bird. Later that morning, as I walked towards Offchurch Bury weir, I witnessed two separate Sparrowhawks being mobbed by other birds (first Jackdaw, then a finch species).

Five sightings is unusual, but the fact that most of them were pretty fleeting is not! None lasted longer than 10 seconds, so these photographs are from earlier encounters - the male on the left at Brandon Marsh, the female on the right at Slimbridge.

There were plenty of other treats this morning - it was a beautiful crisp day, and most of the usual Leam Valley residents were out. These included two Green Woodpeckers, a Jay, a Kingfisher along the first section of the River Leam, two Sky Lark over Offchurch Bury fields and a Buzzard which sat motionless for 15 minutes or more opposite the hide.

I also found my first Fieldfares of the year, a flock of 40 or so along the river at Offchurch Bury Weir. Every year I forget how striking these large winter thrushes are, so every year they are a wonderful surprise.

1 November 2006

Starlings and speed birding in Wales

A business trip to North Wales gave me the opportunity to pop in at Conwy RSPB reserve this week.

It was getting late by the time I arrived, so I set off around the reserve at some pace. The main interest was the estuary, with hundreds of Wigeon, some Redshank and Lapwing dotted about, and a Red-breasted Merganser, not a bird I see too often.

But the real highlight was the Starling roost - thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of birds pouring into the reedbeds in ever larger groups, turning in the evening light and creating beautiful shapes in the sky. A nice way to wrap up a day's work.