Sunday, 29 April 2012

Short-eared Owl

A few weeks ago it was a lovely frosty morning, the sun was shining and this Short-eared Owl was still present on the Nene Washes.

A memory of the sun is all I have as the rain lashes the windows and it is as dark as night in the middle of the day.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Damp around the edges

This last week or so has been a bit wet in the Peterborough area, curtailing my birding exploits somewhat. It is possibly the wettest drought on record! Other than the excitement at the weekend of an Iberian Chiffchaff seen at Castor Hanglands, a bird that is now courting controversy due to its` tendency of singing Chiffchaff songs as well as typical Iberian song, the birds on offer have been what is expected at this time of year. The Wheatears are still passing through the area and now the warblers and Nightingales are starting to appear and sing for territory, I have even heard a `booming` Bittern at an undisclosed site, increasing my PBC year list nicely. The birds though, as well as me are now getting a bit damp around the edges.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Black-winged Stilt

A distant shot in gale force and rainy conditions of this recent visitor to a nearby reserve, just over the border from the Peterborough Bird Club recording area. This Black-winged Stilt has been seen in a few places in the last week or so, Oxfordshire for a day, then Rutland Water for a day and then it flew to a little reserve in Lincolnshire called Willow Tree Fen for a period of 5 days where I managed to catch up with it before it moved on to Frampton Marsh on the Wash where it has been present for the past couple of days.

The Black-winged Stilt is an annual, but rare visitor to Britain, with a few breeding attempts and a long-staying individual staying at Titchwell in Norfolk for a number of years (just `Google` Sammy the Stilt + Titchwell and you will see this individual). An extremely long-legged wader with red legs, a white and black body and long, straight delicate bill. Quite unmistakeable when seen properly.

This is the second individual I have seen in this country, the first being in the PBC area a few years ago at Maxey GP, it`s just a shame this bird flew over our area and decided to drop in just 1km over the border. For this reason I can`t add it to my year list!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Negative birds

The Coot and Little Egret are almost negatives of each other, one is black with a white bill, the other being white with a black bill (okay, it`s not strictly black, it`s grey!). One is a very common breeder with approximately 46,000 birds present in the whole of the U.K. except the extreme north-west, the other is a fairly new arrival to our shores with less than a dozen birds being reported before 1950, but now there is thought to be about 450 breeding pairs in 11 counties in England and Wales.

Complete polar opposites.

Saturday, 14 April 2012


I have yet to take a good photo of a Garganey and as of today I am still waiting.

The Garganey is our only migrant duck that arrives in March and returns to Africa between July and October. There are relatively low numbers of this bird recorded each year due to its `skulking` habit, but it is thought that between 50-150 pairs breed in Britain. Each year I set out with naive ideas that this is the year that I am going to get `the` digiscoped shot that I have been after and each year I fail! The birds are easy to find, but as soon as they clock you, they are off into the undergrowth.

A lovely duck that is smaller than a Mallard, but longer than a Teal. The drake has broad white stripes over the eyes that curve down and meet at the back of the neck. The breast is a mottled brown, with finely barred grey flanks and white belly. The back has black and white drooping feathers. A stunning bird. The duck is typical of female ducks in that she is brown all over, but has a paler throat and a darker eye stripe than that of a female Teal.

A bird that is protected in Britain by special penalties at all times.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Ring Ouzels

These two male Ring Ouzels were found today in the village of Morborne near Peterborough by patch watcher Andrew Gardener and represent my first local Ouzels for 2 years. They were quite shy, staying on the far side of the field and frequently disappearing back into the hedge for cover, but were seen feeding well.

The Ring Ouzel is another bird whose numbers have fallen by over 50% in the last ten years, with between 6,000-11,000 pairs breeding in the country. They breed in the upland areas of Wales, Scotland, south-west England, the Pennines, the Cheviots, North York Moors and parts of western Ireland. They pass through our area en route to these sites and have their favoured stopping off points, an area of which is Morborne Hill and the surrounding countryside.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A bit of bread, but no cheese

The sound of Spring to me is the `little bit of bread and no cheese` song of the Yellowhammer.

A bird that is found on farmland, which is possibly one of the reasons for its fall in numbers. The changes in farming practices over the past few years have led to a decimation in all farmland bird species. The Linnet has fallen by 55%, the Skylark by over 50%, the Lapwing by 49%, the Grey Partridge by a staggering 84%, the Twite by over 50%, the Reed Bunting by 50%, the Corn Bunting by 85%, the Cirl Bunting is now only found in the south-west of England with a population thought to be of around 450 pairs and finally the Yellowhammer has fallen by over 50%. These numbers are quite staggering and can make quite depressing reading were it not for the fact that in some areas of the country these birds are still fairly common. The Yellowhammer, for example is found in over 1,200,000 territories, imagine what it would be like were it not for the population crash!?

Farmland birds have had it tough in the past and they still have a fight on their feathers to remain a sight in our countryside. Hopefully we will learn our lessons from the past, but am I being over-optimistic?

Friday, 6 April 2012

Early morning Owl

This Short-eared Owl was present at dawn on the Nene Washes the other day. He was perched surveying the area and me before taking off into the sunrise.

An owl species that you are just as likely to see in daylight as your are during the hours of dawn and dusk. These birds have bred in the area before, but are more often seen during the winter months when they come down from their Highland fastness or from northern Europe to the more mild climes of the south half of Britain. This year has been a good year for wintering SEO`s, as they are known (saves having to write their full name!) for the whole of the south of the U.K. with large numbers of these birds present, indeed there have been regular double figure counts of these birds present on the Nene Washes. The large numbers present have been attributed to very good levels of their favourite prey, the lemming (in Europe), which has led to an extremely good breeding season and survival rate of the young.

Long may it continue.

Monday, 2 April 2012

A pair of Wheatears

At this time of year the summer migrants are beginning to appear in our area. Some are arriving to set up territories, others are just passing through on their way to their breeding grounds further north and west. One of the latter birds is the Wheatear, a bird that tends to only be seen on passage in the PBC area, but is a guaranteed annual tick for my year list. This year the bird was added to the list yesterday, 3 days later than last year and not by a single bird, but a pair were seen at a place called Eldernell, which is part of the RSPB reserve at the Nene Washes. The above digiscoped photos show the male in the top one and the female in the other two.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Shrike still not playing ball

The Great Grey Shrike is still present at Thorney, just north of Peterborough, but it continues to be very distant and extremely wary of anything that is slightly bigger than it, including a Wood Pigeon that spooked it the other day whilst I was paying a visit. It is very enjoyable, though, watching this bird through my `scope and it has put on a few good hunting shows, catching bees, butterflies and on one occasion catching a small mammal, impaling it on a thorn and proceeding to pull it apart (not for the squeamish). The second photo (above) shows it diving to floor after some poor unsuspecting beastie, although it was unsuccessful on this occasion.

Will it ever come closer?