30 March 2008

No: 84 is a good one...

My quest to add new birds to my "10-Mile List" once again took me to Willington Gravel Pits this morning. As I expected, all the goodies that had been reported over the past week were notable by their absence. The old birding adage of "You should have been here yesterday!" had struck once again!

Although the passage birds may have been missing there was still plenty to see. In the six hours I spent at Willington I recorded a total of 63 species, two more than my previous high count just six days ago. With many of the summer visitors still to arrive I’m confident that the species count will continue to rise.

The more notable birds seen included Shelduck, Goldeneye, Buzzard, Oystercatcher, both Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Chiffchaff and Willow Tit. Two Greylag Geese flew low over one of the pits and gave me my first new bird of the day for my "10-Mile List", species No: 83. A female Wood Duck was also seen - no doubt an escape from somewhere!

After a very pleasant 3½ hours of birding - the sun was out and the sky was almost cloud free - I was starting to think that I wasn’t going to add any more new birds to my list. The Wood Duck will not count due to its extremely dubious origin! Then, at 10:25AM, it happened. A raptor was calling somewhere. For a couple of seconds I couldn’t place the call, or locate its source. I wasn’t exactly panicked but I was a little edgy shall we say! Where was the bird, and what was it?

Again, the call came and this time I spotted the bird, high overhead, and recognised the call. Just as I was about to alert my friend Mike to the bird he was on it too. We had an Osprey! All thoughts of the birds I had missed during the week were forgotten in an instant. One Osprey at Willington was worth more than a bunch of waders to me. Species 84 was on my list and it was a good one!

28 March 2008

Missing out, but getting published!

It’s been one of those weeks when work really has been the one place I would rather not have been. The workload has been bad enough but it has been the bird sightings these past few days that have been the real problem! There have been too many good birds on my local patch at a time when I haven’t been able to get out to see them!

On Wednesday I went back to work, just as an adult Kittiwake, a Swallow and a Bar Tailed Godwit turned up at Willington. On Thursday, three Black Tailed Godwits appeared, again at Willington. Today, just to really rub salt in the wound, Willington played host to three Avocets! It’s been possibly the best three day run at this site ever and I’ve been at work through all of it! Great, just great!

Time for some good news... the Peregrines on Derby Cathedral have their first egg! At around 12:30PM today the web-cam at the nest platform picked up the first sighting of an egg; over the next few days there should, hopefully, be one or two more appearing.

Photo taken from the Derby Peregrine blog site.

The Peregrine blog can be found at http://derbyperegrines.blogspot.com/ with a link there to the web-cam site.

One last little piece of news... the photo I posted here, on March 9th, of Allestree lake has been printed in the local paper today! The Derby Evening Telegraph publish a photo, taken by a reader, each day that has been taken in and around the county and today it was mine. It’s the first time I’ve ever submitted any of my photos to a paper or magazine so it was nice to see it appear, and to get a few phone calls from people that had seen my name in the paper! Signed copies will be available, at a price!

The Allestree Park lake photo.

25 March 2008

Third time lucky...

Today saw the end of the Easter break and a return to work, for some! After I had dropped Lynda at work I headed off, once again, to Allestree Park in search of the elusive Mandarin. This time it proved to be third time lucky and I managed to find a solitary bird hiding amongst some branches that dipped down into the lake. Species number 82 was now on my “10-Mile List”!

The two lakes at Allestree Park.

The only other highlight amongst the 28 species seen at Allestree was a group of three Goldcrests that were displaying to each other less than 10 feet from where I stood. The orange crown feathers of one male bird were by far the brightest I’ve ever seen.

My favourite part of the reserve at Elvaston.

After Allestree I had a short visit to Elvaston Castle Country Park, a visit made all the shorter due to the amount of kids and dogs running about! I had planned on having a walk around the whole of the grounds but, because of all the noise, I went straight into the small nature reserve that is tucked away in a quiet corner of the park. I didn’t manage to add any extra birds to my year list but did get some good views of Buzzard, Goldcrest (again), Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Siskin, Bullfinch and Jay.

A recently felled tree on the reserve.

24 March 2008

Six more...

The singing Blackbirds woke me at 4:25AM today! I was not happy! I was even less happy when I couldn’t get back to sleep properly. At 5:45AM I gave in and got up, had breakfast and headed out birding.

First stop was another, unsuccessful, visit to Aston in search of the Smew. I am now of the feeling that they may well have left so I’ll not be going after them again, unless I get news of a confirmed sighting. It wasn’t a total waste of time though as I did manage to pick up a single Green Sandpiper, my first of the year. By the end of my 90-minute visit I had seen 42 species, three more than yesterday.

From Aston I took a very steady drive along the back roads to Willington Gravel Pits. This route gave me my second year tick of the day, Fieldfare. A mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare were feeding in a roadside field just outside Weston-on-Trent.

Once at Willington the birding started to hot up a little, even though the temperature had started to fall somewhat! The wind-chill must have taken the temperature well below freezing. I spent four hours around the gravel pits and was rewarded with a total of 61 species, possibly my highest ever count at this reserve.

New birds for the year were Little Ringed Plover, Curlew, Great Black-backed Gull and Chiffchaff. Having found my first Green Sandpiper of the year only an hour or so earlier, I located two more at Willington! Just like buses, you wait ages for one then three come along!

Other notable sightings at Willington included 17 Shelduck, 3 Goosander, 4 Buzzard, 4 Dunlin, a single Kingfisher, both Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, 30 Sand Martin and a single Willow Tit.

So, after a better day than I had expected, my “10-Mile List” has now reached 81 species. I think it will be another week or two before the next batch of summer migrants start to arrive so it’s going to be difficult to increase my total for a while, but I may well try tomorrow!

23 March 2008

The reluctant birder...

5:15AM, the Blackbirds are singing, I bury my head in my pillow and go back to sleep. 6:00AM, more Blackbirds, a distant Dunnock, a Robin somewhere and a Collard Dove all think it’s time I got out of bed and started the morning. One look out of the bedroom window and once again I’m heading back to bed - it’s snowing!

I did finally get out and do some birding this morning, after the snow had melted. I spent 2¼ hours looking for Smew at Aston-on-Trent. I drew a blank on the Smew - another small duck that has given me the slip - but I did manage to see a total of 39 species.

Two Sand Martin were the best birds of the morning and, even though the temperature was only just above freezing, they somehow managed to confirm that Spring really is upon us. Quite what these delicate little hirundines thought of a cold English Easter Sunday I can only wonder at but I’m pretty sure that they were finding it a lot colder than Africa.

Other birds seen included Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Goldeneye, Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Redwing, Reed Bunting, Goldfinch and Bullfinch. Highest single count was of 32 Mute Swan feeding together by the canal just outside the village of Aston-on-Trent.

One other bird that I noted was Rook. These were the first that I have recorded in my 10-mile zone but I’m sure that I must have seen plenty before today during the past three months. Lesson learnt... keep a look out at all times, even for the common birds!

I’m now up to 75 species seen within 10 miles of home. Tomorrow, I hope to add Chiffchaff and Little Ringed Plover to my total and I may well go in search of the two little ducks again! Then again...

21 March 2008

Birding before work...

I made my second visit to Allestree Park in search of Mandarin this morning - once again, I drew a blank! So far I’ve only put 135 minutes of birding into chasing this scarce little duck but, I’m starting to get the feeling that it’s going to prove tricky to add this species to my “10-Mile Radius List”. If I don’t come across one at Allestree in the next week or two I may well give up on them until they return, hopefully, later in the year.

Getting out of bed at 6:00AM and then facing high winds and scattered rain showers wasn’t a total waste of time though as I did pick up a couple of new birds for my list, Lesser Redpoll and Goldcrest. In ¾hr at the park I saw a total of 25 species and heard another two.

The Lesser Redpoll was the best bird I found, the rest were common woodland or water birds. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming for a short while, and showing well, a Song Thrush was singing for just about the whole of the time I was there and two Redwing were skulking around in the woodland by the lake.

The number of species I have seen within 10 miles of home this year now stands at 73.

18 March 2008

The Sanctuary...

For the first time since I chased the Cedar Waxwing around Nottingham, back in 1996, I went birding during work today! This time I wasn’t after a “mega” like I was back then, I just fancied a bit of a breather from work.

In a 25 minute late lunch break, between 3:15PM and 3:40PM, I saw 10 species at The Sanctuary on Pride Park. The birds seen were... Little Grebe, Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, Black-headed Gull, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Grey Wagtail, Magpie and Carrion Crow.

I had hoped that I may pick up the odd migrant bird, such as Sand Martin, or maybe a plover of some sort but it wasn’t to be. Maybe next time...

16 March 2008

Thetford trip...

Weather forecasts... I’m sure they were invented just to confuse me! The rain that should have made a mess of yesterday's birding trip never materialised - well, not until we were safely back on the coach and on the way home - and we enjoyed a pleasant, but overcast, day

The bird list for the day got underway whilst we waited for the coach to arrive at the pickup point, in Derby. The pair of Peregrine that are resident on Derby Cathedral gave good views with one bird perched on the cathedral whilst the other did repeated "flyovers" for the crowd below. Other birds seen on the way to Thetford included Wigeon, Fieldfare and Red-Legged Partridge.

Looking for Woodlark - two landed behind me as I took this photo!

Our first stop of the day was Santon Downham, a regular venue for our RSPB outings. Bird highlights here were, for me, Woodlark (two birds giving very good views), Brambling, Siskin, Marsh Tit and a single Chiffchaff. The Chiffchaff was a welcome find as it was my first spring migrant of the year.

A couple of the lambs out grazing the heath.

Another sign of the arrival of spring was the number of lambs out grazing the heath. The 2½ hours spent walking the heath and woodland of Santon Downham gave us a total of 33 species.

All Saints Church, Santon.

Lynford Arboretum was our second site of the day, another favourite with our RSPB group. The arboretum is one of the more reliable sites in the country to see Hawfinch and we were not to be disappointed as Lynda and I were able to see a group of four of these very shy finches. Other woodland species located here included Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Coal Tit and more Siskin.

Have you ever looked REALLY close at the colours of a Mallard?

Out on the water of the, now restored, gravel pit lakes the birds included Greylag Goose, Great Crested Grebe, Goosander, Pochard, Shelduck, Egyptian Goose, Kingfisher and Oystercatcher.

Two and a half hours in the arboretum saw Lynda and I pick up a total of 40 species. More importantly, we returned to the coach after a very pleasant day birding without getting wet! The rain started to fall a very short time after we left the car park!

Spring in Lynford Arboretum.

Including the Peregrine seen in Derby, and a few birds seen from the coach on the way to Thetford, we located a total of 54 species. It is not the biggest day count we have ever had but then again it's not every day we get to see Woodlark, Brambling AND Hawfinch!

Today, I awoke to the sound of heavy rain and strong wind. I stayed in bed for an extra couple of hours! By early afternoon the rain had stopped but the wind was still very strong so I decided against any local birding.

Next weekend I have 3½ days off work so if the weather is okay I’ll have plenty of time to chase after birds for my local "10-Mile List". I’ll not be trusting the weather forecast though!

14 March 2008

If I tell you that the highlight of the week, so far, has been buying a new paper shredder you can start to get a feel for how the past five days have been for me! All that I’ve done is work, sleep and work some more... I need a good weekend.

On paper, I should have a pleasant couple of days to look forward to. I have two days off work. Lynda and I are on an RSPB birding trip tomorrow, to Thetford Forest on the Suffolk/Norfolk border. On Sunday I should be able to chase more birds for my local list. There is just one problem... the weather!

If the weather forecasts are correct I could well be getting wet at some point tomorrow, and the weather on Sunday may well mean I don’t get to do any birding at all.

The one glimmer of hope is that maybe, just maybe, the weather forecasters have got it all wrong, again, and we’ll get two dry days and lots of migrant birds moving in! I wish!

09 March 2008

Off to a flying start!

Just how long it will last I don’t know, but at the moment I have the birding bug again! I set the alarm to wake me at 7:00AM this morning, at 5:50AM I lay in bed listening to the first Blackbird start to sing outside. At 6:00AM, I could hear a Robin singing too, it was time I was out of bed. As I ate my breakfast a few minutes later a Collard Dove joined the early morning songsters - the birds were out there, I just needed to go and find them!

Allestree Park lake.

Allestree Park was my first port of call, not an area that would give me a big bird list but one that would hopefully give me a species that will prove tricky within my 10-mile radius, Mandarin Duck. Although there have been reports of up to 30 Mandarin there so far this year, I drew a blank. My first real outing within my new “zone” and I had dipped out! What to do next? Should I hang around and hope the ducks might turn up or should I move on to another site? Thankfully, I chose to check the wooded area near the lake for woodpeckers and anything else that may be there.

There’s a Lesser ’pecker in there, somewhere!

Of the three woodpeckers that are resident in the UK the Lesser Spotted is by far the most difficult to locate and see. The last time I saw a Lesser was two years ago, today I saw two! And, from exactly the same spot in the wood I also saw a Green Woodpecker and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers - who cares about Mandarin?!

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

After watching the ‘peckers for a while I decided to head for Willington Gravel Pits, and a change of habitat. The 1½ hrs I spent at Allestree saw me leave with a list of 34 species. The Lesser ‘peckers may prove to be the only ones I see this year. Three Siskin were good birds to get on my list and a single Treecreeper means I don’t have to suffer the embarrassment of going six months without seeing one, like I did a few years ago!

Willington Gravel Pits

At Willington I met up with my good friend Mike and we set about covering as much of the area as we could over the next three hours. The better mix of habitat here gave us a wider range of species than Allestree, 58 in total. For me, the best finds had to be two Dunlin and a pair of Raven (saves me going looking for them in Derby city centre). All the other birds were ones that I would expect to see again without any problems over the coming months.

Some of the other species seen included Goldeneye, Goosander, Common Buzzard, Ringed Plover, Skylark, Willow Tit and Linnet.

After returning home and washing the car, I checked off all the birds seen on my new 10-Mile List. I have a total of 71 species in the bag. With the spring migration about to start at any time I should be over the 100 species barrier within the next month or so.

Choosing to chase a local list may not give me the biggest number of species I’ve seen in a single year but it does look like it will make me work harder for each and every bird. As I said to Mike this morning, after he swore at me for finding the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers... “Watch out, the boy is back!

08 March 2008

A fresh approach...

For a while now my bird watching has been somewhat infrequent. In fact, it’s been more or less nonexistent! A quick check of my records a short while ago revealed just how much I have let things slip... just 11 birding days in the past 12 months! Okay, so I’m no longer the “twitcher” that I once was but 11 birding outings in a year is not good enough! I need a fresh approach, a new challenge.

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading a book called The Big Year, by Mark Obmascik. In short, it tells the story of the race to see as many birds as possible in a single year, in North America. The year was 1998 and three birders found themselves going head to head against each other, and the birds! By the year's end Sandy Komito had not only beaten his own Big Year record, and in the process beaten the other two birders, but he had set what many people believe is a record that might never be bettered. During his 1998 Big Year Sandy Komito managed to locate an amazing 745 species!

As I neared the end of the book I started to feel the challenge of bird listing creeping back into my veins. Once I’d finished reading, I knew I needed that fresh birding challenge. That left me thinking about just what list to start or concentrate on.

A UK List? Done it in the past - now, it would be too time consuming, and the petrol bill too expensive!

A County List? Again, done it before - it is also one of the favourite lists for birders to try.

A Single Site List? Never tried that. It would be good to get to know a single area well over a 12-month period but, if things got a little quiet, I may well lose interest.

After a beer or two, and a look around a few web sites, I came up with my new approach to my birding... A 10-Mile List!

By using Free Map Tools I have set out my recording area, a 10-mile radius of home. The reasoning behind this is that I’ll (hopefully) not run up too much of a fuel bill, I’ll have a reasonable choice of habitat and with a bit of luck and commitment a good sized list by the end of the year. By restricting myself to just a 10-mile radius I’m also hoping to find a few new birding areas that I’ve never considered before.

Tomorrow, I’ll start working my new 10-mile patch, if the weather is okay that is!

I’ll be back tomorrow evening to post an update on how I get on.