27 May 2010

Rambles at lunchtime

I'm lucky enough to work close to hills, fields, some fragments of woodland, a stream and a canal; and while the wildlife they hold isn't generally remarkable, it does provide a very pleasant backdrop for lunchtime strolls (whenever work allows).

This week has been a case in point. As I have wandered through the fields and along the stream I have seen and heard species including: kestrel, buzzard, carrion crow, jackdaw, green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, chaffinch, goldfinch, chiffchaff, blue tit, great tit, robin, whitethoat, pied wagtail, grey wagtail, blackbird, song thrush, chub, rainbow trout, various butterflies (sorry, can't remember which, but it's a good spot for marbled white later in the summer) and, just as I was about to head back to the office today, the loud clear call of a cuckoo.

It's not a bad haul for a little lunchtime ramble.

Bird of the week: Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), one of the most distinctive sights and sounds of May, now sadly all too uncommon.

Senses working overtime

This morning was too perfect to spoil with anything as frantic as listing or twitching or even 'proper' birding – I resolved instead to simply wander around Fingringoe Reserve and embrace the sights, sounds and smells of the Colne Estuary in May.

The whole place was alive in the sunshine. The very first field that I wandered across held two red-legged partridges, two moorhens and a song thrush. Swallows swooped low over the rough grass and in the distance a little egret flapped past.

Over at the nearby lake, two red-jewelled birds swam briefly on the surface before diving under – little grebes in their finest plumage. Nearby, the first of the chaffinches, whitethoats and blackcaps sang – then suddenly the nightingale song started. It is an explosive, distintive and beautiful sound and, here at least, it is everywhere.

I strolled down to Robbie's Hide to check the tide: it was just heading out, already exposing a wide expanse of undulating mudflat, silvery in the sun. Herring gulls passed lazily by, black-headed gulls busied themselves, and a pair of shelduck just sat, their terracotta panels vivid against the silvery blue all around them.

As I headed back up the hill I started to hear more of the common birds I might expect: a dunnock, a wren, a green woodpecker and a chiffchaff. Then another familiar sound joined in: a turtle dove, drawing me back towards to the trees. Sadly I didn't find it – and it was the same story when a cuckoo started calling just a few minutes later.

Down in the far corner, where the reserve meets farmland, I found familiar farmland birds including skylarks and yellowhammer. Reed warblers sang in nearby reedbeds, and a male marsh harrier made several magnificent overhead passes.

Bird of the day: Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), a magnificent sight which is all too uncommon for those of us living in the west – fortunately they are increasingly common along the east coast.

20 May 2010

Brandon in the evening

After a long day at work I decided to make an evening trip to Brandon Marsh for the first time this year, picking up a few wonderful sightings in the process.

The headline birds were a temminck's stint (my first since 2005, that also at Brandon) and the pair of garganey (my first of the year, the male already well into moult).

But alongside these I had a generally wonderful evening in the sunshine, passing a tranquil hour watching lapwing flying lazily over teal pool, a redshank sweeping the far bank, three separate sightings of cuckoos in flight (again, my first of the year), a female great crested grebe carrying at least one youngster on her back, little ringed plovers running all around the main island on east marsh pool, and loads more besides.

I normally do my birding in the morning, but there is something special about a summer evening. This one was no exception.

Bird of the day: Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii), a tiny but elongated wader which breeds mainly in the arctic - fewer than 100 are seen every year in England as they pass through on migration, so every sighting is a little bit special.

19 May 2010

Wonderful moments in May

Assuming the weather behaves, May is probably (in my ever so humble opinion) the finest month in the British calendar. Although I remain busy with family and work commitments, I take every opportunity to sneak out for a few minutes to remind myself of that.

Lunchtime walks in the fields around my office have provided particularly fruitful this week: a best-ever nuthatch experience on Tuesday as one of these little blue gems failed to notice me less than three metres away; trees and hedges full of warbler song; not one but two pairs of grey wagtails on the little stream behind my office; and kestrels and buzzards hunting over the rough fields that make up the land around the 'mount'.

And it's a similar story in the garden, with house sparrows and starlings busy making nests and getting ready to feed their young, blue tits dashing hither and thither, and this magnificent male bullfinch (see picture) making a prolonged appearance outside my french doors tonight as I settled down to watch some tv.

Bird of the day(s): Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), a wonderful woodpecker-like bird which never fails to delight on the rare occasions it shows itself - generally it is easier to hear than to see.

16 May 2010

A day 'off patch'

I joined up with a friend today for a morning's birding away from my usual haunts.

The early rain as I drove to our meeting point turned out to be a false alarm - the shower passed over, the chill north wind quickly died down and we were left with a superb morning.

It turned out to be even more superb as the birds turned up: as many as 10 ringed plover, three pairs of little ringed plover, skies full of swifts and sand martins, a pair of summer plumaged dunlin, a redshank, plenty of warblers in full song (including several lesser whitethroat and a particularly showy sedge warbler), linnets and meadow pipits aplenty, and lot more besides.

Alongside these were butterflies and dragonflies enjoying the steadily rising temperatures: orange-tip, speckled wood, small copper and brimstone, plus several superb broad-bodied chasers (pictured).

Bird of the day: Swift (Apus apus); despite all the waders and warblers, it was the low flying and ever-wonderful swifts that did most to captivate me this morning.

13 May 2010

And a nightingale sang...

Another weekend away from home, so again no Warwickshire birding (missing in the process a pair of Wood Sandpiper at Brandon :-( good job I've long since given up worrying about the size of my patch and county lists).

Instead I was back in Essex, and so took a couple of quick trips to Fingringoe, the Essex Wildlife Trust reserve on the shores of the Colne Estuary, not far from Colchester.

The reserve is famous for its nightingales - perhaps 30 or 40 singing birds each spring. This weekend they were in full voice, and I finally managed to lock on to one for good views as well - sadly the only photograph I managed was massively out of focus through the foliage.

There were, however, good photo opps for two birds I don't often get that close to - first a red-legged partridge, of which there were dozens running around the site, and second a pair of linnets, perched on gorse near the salt marshes.

Other decent birds across the two days including a pair of marsh harriers, a cettis, a lone reed warbler, and among the shoreline waders a pair each of summer plumaged dunlin and grey plover, neither birds I see much of in Warwickshire at this time of year.

Bird of the day: Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), dull brown and skulky little birds, about the size of a robin: a bird who's ordinariness is forgiven and forgotten the moment it starts to sing an astonishing array of songs and noises.