Monday, 30 January 2012

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend saw the annual event which is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. It takes place on the last weekend in January and is easy to take part in as it only takes an hour.

The Big Garden Birdwatch was born 33 years ago in 1979 and was an experiment for the members of the Young Ornithologists` Club (which has now evolved into the RSPB Wildlife Explorers). Since then it has grown and grown, with adults being allowed to join in in 2001. In 2011 609,177 people took part and saw 10,262,501 birds. The principles have remained the same, you spend an hour watching birds in your garden and record what you see. It`s as simple as that.

This event has helped the RSPB track the health of our bird population and has in some way noted the tragic fall in `common` birds, such as House Sparrow, Starling and Song Thrush with the rise in numbers of birds such as the Goldfinch (the digiscoped picture above) and the Long-tailed Tit with the advent of Nyjer seed feeders and the popularity of feeding fat balls.

This year was just like any other year for me, with the usual suspects such as Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Blue and Great Tits outnumbering everything else (still have yet to note a House Sparrow), but a couple of nice surprises were a pair of Bullfinches and a male Blackcap.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Get Knotted

If you visit North Norfolk at this time of year you are more than likely going to see some Knot, thousands of them. So, it was unusual to see this individual on the beach at Titchwell. It seemed unaware of my presence and just continued feeding all on his own!

This birds` full name is Red Knot as in its` breeding finery its` plumage is a lovely red colour. You do sometimes get to see these birds in their red dress just before they fly to their breeding grounds in May and when they first arrive back in August, but the more common appearance is this grey colouration.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Frozen fowl




These wildfowl were sat on a small pool called Gordon`s Mere at Woodwalton Fen near Peterborough. The pool had almost frozen over completely, but there was a small patch of clear water where the ducks congregated. The light was lovely and the reflections good, which lent themselves to these shots.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Whooper Swan





Pair of adults

Group of juveniles
The Whooper Swans` name in latin literally means `Swan swan`. The `swaniest` of swans is the other migratory wild swan we get in the U.K. in the winter months. They breed on the tundra in Iceland and northern Scandinavia and arrive on our shores in October and leave before the middle of April.

They are larger than the Bewick`s Swan, but smaller than the Mute Swan. One way to tell this bird apart from its` cousin the Bewick`s (apart from its` size) is the amount of yellow on the bill. On the Whooper this yellow extends further along the bill, beyond the nostrils, where the Bewick`s marks end before the nostrils. Although, having said that, some birds differ and have less yellow! Every birds bill markings are unique and this is used to tell each bird apart in the absence of a leg ring. You will see in the photos above that a few are of the same adult if you look at the yellow bill markings. The birds in these photos are most probably a family group as the young do stay with their parents for their first autumn and winter.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Smew two

With the Redhead Smew still present at Deeping High Bank I decided to pay a visit to see if I could get any better shots than before. The shots above a slightly better, but still not too pleasing to me!

The only down side to the visit was the fact that my tripod was blown over by the strong wind resulting in my scope being damaged on a hard surface! A nice big dent and scratch now sit on the objective lens of the scope.  I am debating as to whether to pay a fortune in getting it repaired or live with a knackered scope.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Bewick`s on ice

At the beginning of the week it was quite cold, quite a lot of water in the PBC area had frozen over, leading to birds to being congregated in small areas where there was open water. These two Bewick`s Swans were on the River Welland in an area known locally as Deeping High Bank, but were not associating with any other birds, intent on perfecting their ice-skating skills.

The Bewick`s Swan is the U.K.`s smallest swan, but is a migrant to our shores. Around 9,000 individuals, about a third of the entire European population spend the winter in Britain and Ireland, sheltering from the harsh winters in northern Russia and North America where they breed. The swans in Britain come from northern Russia where they leave their Siberian breeding grounds in September and arrive here in mid-October. They start their return migration before the end of March.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Redhead Smew

This `Redhead` Smew was found yesterday by Josh Jones on Deeping High Bank in Lincolnshire and despite seeing the bird for myself I got less than brilliant views as it flew off into the sunset. This morning the bird was again present, mixing with Goosander, Mallard and Tufted ducks, in fact the river was frozen and the areas of open water were full of wild fowl of all sorts.

The photos below are pretty rubbish, with one being digiscoped and the other being taken `point and shoot` style with the zoom on Canon A640 at maximum, but hopefully give you an idea of the bird!

Digiscoped image

`Point and shoot` image

The Smew is part of a group of ducks known as sawbills, along with Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser, but is a lot smaller than both its cousins being only a little larger than a Teal. The `Redhead` is the female or juvenile while the male Smew is a stunning bird known as `The white nun` and is arguably the most attractive of ducks. They breed in northern and eastern Siberia and are scarce migrants to our shores in the winter. It is thought that only about 100 of these birds are present in Britain and Ireland overwinter.

A welcome tick on my PBC year list which has now reached the century mark.

Monday, 16 January 2012

A couple of Gulls

Dogsthorpe tip in Peterborough isn`t a particularly attractive site when it comes to bird watching, it is, however the best site in the area for getting views of the rarer gulls the U.K. has to offer.

As I have mentioned before, Josh Jones is one of the areas top birders and one of his passions is gull watching. He is often found searching the tip and its surrounding fields for gulls of all kinds and today was no exception. Josh called me at lunch time to say that he had `got` an Iceland Gull at the tip, but I could not get there for an hour or so due to work commitments and when I arrived on site the bird had disappeared, but Josh had just found a second-winter Caspian Gull, which he duly put me on to.

Caspian Gull

Caspian Gull
We then searched the large number of gulls present to see if the Iceland Gull was anywhere to be seen. It wasn`t and when a Red Kite `buzzed` through putting all the gulls in the air we decided to check out the fields adjacent to the tip. Sure enough, there in the front of the flock was the Iceland Gull, a lovely pale juvenile.

Iceland Gull (looking right)

Iceland Gull 
These digiscoped shots are really just for the record and don`t really show the gulls to their full potential. The Iceland Gull, in particular was a lovely looking gull, completely pale, `biscuity` colouration.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Titchwell Turnstones

Turnstones seem to be extremely confiding birds. On my recent trip to Titchwell RSPB there were hundreds of these birds on the beach, picking their way through the flotsam and jetsam that had been washed up by the recent storms. Some were having a snooze as well! They allowed you to get extremely close and weren`t at all bothered by your presence.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Another wild goose chase

Late last year I missed the Tundra Bean Geese that had been seen at Baston and Langtoft gravel pits, a `dip` that cost me my 170th species for my local patch year list. However, I received a call yesterday from Mike Weedon to tell me that 4 Tundra Bean Geese had again been seen by Josh Jones at these pits and were presumably the same birds as before Christmas. The problem with these birds was that they were on private land and could not be viewed from public areas. Today Mike re-found them on a pit close to the village of Langtoft which could be viewed and so, after his kind phone-call I raced down there to get a view. The birds were present with a mixed flock of Canada and Greylag Geese, with a couple of European White-fronted Geese present as well and has lifted my 2012 patch list to 91 species.

This goose is split into 2 sub-species, the Taiga and Tundra and arrives in Britain in September, with 450 individuals spending the winter here. The majority of these  are found in Norfolk, indeed when I went to Buckenham Marshes the other day I saw a large flock of Bean Geese, but these were of the sub-species Taiga or fabilis. In the PBC area, however they are quite a scarce bird, hence the `mad dash` to see them!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Less is more

I am becoming a `Twitcher`! There, I`ve said it.

There has been a Lesser White-fronted goose at Buckenham Marshes RSPB in Norfolk for the past few weeks and I have stopped myself from going to see it, that was, until yesterday, when I made up my mind to go and see this rare goose.

I was up at silly o`clock and got to Buckenham at 7.30am just as the sun was coming up. A flock of feral Barnacle Geese was seen and also a rather large flock of European White-fronted Geese, but no Lesser White-front. This goose has been seen hanging around with Taiga Bean Geese and as yet this flock had not shown up. I started to walk along the track towards the area where my friend Chris Orders had seen the goose earlier in the week and arrived just as the Taiga Beans flew in. They were extremely distant, to say the least, but I started patiently scanning. The wind started blowing, knocking my scope and tripod over twice, making it very difficult to focus, but I got my first view of a Lesser White-fronted Goose! The view was distant and shaky, but obvious with the birds large white blaze on its head, but too far for any photos. The photo below has been kindly given to me by Chris Orders, just to give you a taster.

The Lesser White-fronted Goose is a goose that has courted controversy over the years, with the last accepted truly wild bird being seen at Slimbridge in 2003. Subsequent birds seen have been assumed to be birds that have escaped from collections and so haven`t counted. The particular individual at Buckenham was seen to arrive with Taiga Bean Geese, a known `carrier` of Lesser White-fronts and so has been accepted as being of truly wild origin.

This goose is becoming truly rare in Europe, a reintroduction has taken place in Fenno-Scandia, but as yet this has proved unsuccessful. The goose at Buckenham Marshes may be the last one of its kind ever to grace the shores of the U.K., a sobering thought.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Black heads

Black-headed Gulls are a familiar sight in Britain with over 200,000 breeding pairs. The bird is named incorrectly, in my opinion as it never actually has a black head. In the summer the adults have a dark chocolate hood and in the winter months (as in the photos above) it has a white head due to the hood being moulted. It is a beautiful bird though, with wax red legs and bill and slim, pointed wings with an obvious white stripe along the front edge.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New Year, new start

Another year of listing has ended and I am quite glad that it has. 2011 in the PBC area was good for some, there were some cracking birds seen, but not by me! A juvenile Night Heron was seen by 3 local birders, but by the time me and Chris Orders had arrived on site, the bird had vanished ; a Pied Flycatcher was found in a local garden and I was away ; a couple of Bean Geese were seen near Langtoft and a female Scaup on Deeping High Bank and again both had vanished by the time I had arrived on site! All in all, a pretty miserable year for my local list, a paltry 169 species were seen, but some goodies were in there, including Raven, Wood Warbler and White-fronted Goose. Maybe this year will be better?

January 1st is traditionally a day when birders are out and about starting their lists. Not for me, as it is Lisa`s birthday and so she, quite rightly, comes first. We went out locally on the 2nd and got a few birds, the White-fronted Goose is still at Ferry Meadows CP and a lovely Kingfisher was seen, but my year list will start with a vengeance at the weekend.