25 February 2007

A day at Abberton Reservoir

I took a prolonged trip around Abberton Reservoir in Essex today. When I arrived I heard that a Black-necked Grebe and several Smew had been seen the day before - suffice it to say that I didn't find them today though.

I did however have a pleasant morning's birding, including: great numbers of Goldeneye and Pochard, an Oystercather, a Red-legged Partridge, an impressive flock of 200+ Starling, a male Bullfinch, three Goosander, the Cormorant roost, two Egyptian Geese (pictured) and a Brown Hare.

And yes, I do know the latter isn't a bird. It is my favourite of our wild mammals though, and it always feels like a wonderful privilege to spend a few moments watching one.
They tend to be fast, fleeting and distant, and that is reflected in the photograph.

17 February 2007

A Slimbridge escape

Good God - a day off. Surely a mistake, I thought, so before anyone noticed and sent more work my way I bundled the family in the car and headed to Slimbridge.

As soon as we arrived, I sneaked (snuck?) off for the obligatory birding session without the family, but quickly returned to the captive bird areas to take some photographs and generally enjoy some quality time with J and C.

I normally keep The Hornet's Nest for wildlife shots rather than captive / tame animals, but I like these enough to make an exception (only the Pochards here are wild birds).

16 February 2007

The Draycote Gull Roost

There comes a time in a man's life when he has to face facts - ie. he doesn't know the first thing about gulls and he needs help.

Gulls are hellishly difficult birds to identify (from each other I mean - even I can tell a gull from a goldfinch, thank you). This is partly because many species are very similar, and partly because they change dramatically during their first few years - meaning that a first winter gull may look nothing like its second / third winter brother. Confused? Good, I like to share it around.

So when the opportunity arose via the Warwickbirds email group to join a group of birders watching the gulls coming in to roost at Draycote Reservoir, I eagerly seized the opportunity.

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of gulls roost on this massive water, and among the Black-headed, Herring, Great and Lesser Black-backed and Common Gulls (all of which I can generally identify), are usually a handful of rarer birds - Mediteranean, Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls for example.

These look very similar to the more common birds, can be highly variable, and are therefore a complete mystery to me. It was as well then that many of the county's more experienced birders were on hand to help out the bewildered and dazed among us. With their help we found several Yellow-legged and Med Gulls, the former a lifer for me. Not only that, but a Stonechat put in an appearance before we had even started - a year tick from the cafe, fantastic.

So thanks to Richard for organising, Steve for the lift, and to all the other birders who attended what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable late afternoon.

11 February 2007

Still no Lesser Spot

Back to Whitacre Heath for more photography this morning, and back for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which has been reported a few times since I dipped last weekend.

Same result again though. Some nice photos on the car park feeders, not much from the feeder hide (bar a very obliging Grey Squirrel), and dipped on the LSW. Word is definitely spreading, and today there must have been half a dozen cameras on site as I left. Nice to meet a few familiar 'cyber-faces' though.

Moved on to Kingsbury Water Park, where I've not been for ages (a year perhaps). Plenty around including loads of Lapwing, at least eight Snipe, good numbers of Wigeon, Teal and some Shoveller, Gadwall, some Goldeneyes, a Grey Wagtail, and five Buzzards displaying high over the car park.

No Lesser Spot there either.

Garden birding

Forty-eight hours of snow and cold weather brought the nation to its knees this week. It normally does.

Still, at least the cold weather means decent garden birding at last.

With the mild winter we have had to date, I've not had much in the garden apart from the House Sparrows and a lone Blackcap a few weeks back. However, the cold weather drives birds into gardens looking for food, and as ever, I was there to oblige. So, the 2007 garden list got a little boost.

Visitors in the last three days include: Starlings, House Sparrows, Collared Doves, Wood Pigeons, Redwing, Dunnock, Robin, Pied Wagtail, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Song Thrush, Blackbird and Wren.

And, as I write this update a few days later, the Blackcap reappeared for a quick photocall - most obliging.

4 February 2007

The Whitacre Heath photographers

My first and only previous visit to Whitacre Heath was not a success. Having eventually located this small Warwickshire Wildlife Trust reserve, and negotiated both the carpark lock and a distinctly misleading map, I discovered that a) the site was largely flooded; and b) my wellingtons were in the porch at home. I left sadly, vowing one day to return.

I'm pleased to report that today was that day, and it was an altogether more successful trip. The reserve itself is very near to the Ladywalk reserve on the outskirts of Coleshill in north Warwickshire. It forms part of the Middle Tame Valley, a renowned birding hotspot in these parts. Although small, it is (please excluse the cliche) perfectly formed, with a scrape, a few pools, five hides and some splendid woodland. Its record for birds isn't perhaps quite as strong as nearby Ladywalk, but its close proximity makes it a near contender.

But perhaps it real claim to fame is its appeal for photographers. The birders who visit regularly are to be much praised for the work they put in, not only on working parties and the like, but also for the huge variety of feeders which they have brought to the site and the regular feed they provide.

The upshot is that both the carpark and the 'feeder' hide are excellent spots for bird photography, giving you close access to a number of common (and not so common) woodland birds. As a result there seem to be as many photographers there as birders, with huge 400 / 500mm telephoto lenses and £1,000+ DSLR cameras. My little FZ20 looked like a toy in comparison, but I had huge fun nevertheless, and will be back for more photography, and of course for the birding.

Sadly the famed Whitacre Lesser Spotted Woodpecker did not appear. I'll be back for him too.

2 February 2007

In the country

A few years ago, I moved out from my smart town centre flat (sorry, I think the developer would prefer me to call it an 'apartment') and moved to the country. Not the real country you understand, just a house a couple of miles out of town from where I can see fields and trees and go for a quick walk on something other than tarmac. Today reminded me exactly why I did that.

Working from home and in need of some air, I grabbed my bins and headed out for 20 minutes. In town I would have browsed a few shops, perhaps grabbed a coffee somewhere expensive, and then returned to my computer. But from where I live today I can stroll on to fields within a minute or two.

This afternoon, within five minutes of leaving the house, I had a huge flock of perhaps 500 Starlings roaring low over my head, gathered in a tight ball and then shape-shifting as only a flock of Starlings can. When they landed in some nearby trees they made an unbelievable noise - cacophony or music depending on your taste.

Fieldfares flew by in small groups, perhaps 150 in all, and small finches and tits dashed hither and thither. As I headed back to the house I noted a small mouselike movement on an oak tree trunk - I had found my first ever Radford Semele Treecreeper.

Refreshed, with air in my lungs and mud on my wellies, I returned to my computer a happier man.