24 June 2008

Real birding...

After the rather disgraceful way I birded the Black-necked Grebe at Ambaston on Sunday (watching it for less than 10 minutes) I decided that by way of punishment I would “treat” myself to a few hours of real bird watching last night - no rushing around, no chasing after rarities, no going looking at birds found by other birders. By 6:30pm I was walking the lane at Willington Gravel Pits, slowly! I had to walk slowly as I spent the first quarter of an hour with my eyes fixed on three Buzzard that were riding the thermals over head, a great sight in the clear blue evening sky.

The “heads up” birding also gave great views of Swallow, Swift and Sand Martin as they raced around in search of food; they weren’t going hungry as there were swarms of insects everywhere! The trees and shrubs along the lane also held Dunnock, Robin, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, a family party of Long-tailed Tit, a few recently fledged Blue Tit and also a couple of Greenfinch.

Out on the water the ducks were not looking at their best, the summer moult is now quite clearly underway. Not so much the ugly duckling, more like the ugly duck! Even the male Wigeon, that has decided against migrating this year, was looking very shabby. Gadwall, Mallard and Tufted Duck tried their best to hide their scruffy plumage but were seen anyway.

Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Common Redshank and Common Tern were much easier to see as they were all in full summer plumage and were more than happy to be seen. The one bird that would have looked superb, if it hadn’t landed between the setting sun and my ‘scope, was a Kingfisher. As it was I got very close views but the backlighting washed out the colours somewhat. I did manage a few “record shots” though - my first photos of a Kingfisher.

Kingfisher. I think it saw me as I took the last photo!

Two birds that I didn’t expect to see, but did, were a Knot and also a Black Tern. The Knot spent the evening feeding on the spit that is in the middle of the main pool; the Black Tern flew through later in the evening and showed no sign of stopping any time soon!

At 9:20pm I changed location and went off in search of Barn Owl again. This time I had a new site to try, after drawing a blank 10 days ago, and this time things looked a lot more promising as soon as I parked the car - the habitat looked spot on. By now the sun was setting and the resulting sunset was one of the best I’ve seen this year; I could have spent quite a while taking photos but I had an owl to find.

Within 10 minutes of leaving the car I had found my target, or should I say, my target had found me! The Barn Owl appeared out of nowhere, as they tend to do, and flew straight towards me. The second I spotted it I dropped to me knees and used the trunk of a tree to break-up my outline. At this point I became painfully aware that I am not Simon King, of Springwatch fame.

On one of the last Springwatch programmes this year Mr King encountered a Barn Owl and sat low to the ground calling the owl closer to him - he didn’t bite his cheek as he hit the deck. I did! All the time I was watching the owl I could taste my own blood and feel the inside of my mouth throbbing where I had bitten myself. On returning home Lynda found the story rather amusing, I wasn’t so sure myself.

Once the owl had moved on I started the walk back to the car. I was more than happy with the evening and my return to real birding and decided to call it quits for the night, the birds had other ideas. Just a few hundred yards away from where the Barn Owl had been hunting, two Tawny Owls flew from one small wood to another; on the drive home I spotted a Little Owl sat out on a telephone wire. Two weeks ago I needed to find my first owl of the year for my “10-Mile List”, last night I saw three species in the space of half an hour - that was real birding.

My “10-Mile List” now stands at 127 species.


  1. I'm still waiting for my first Tawny, but I'm lucky enough to have a Barn Owl that gives good views from the house.

    To get three species in one night must have felt very good. Well done.

  2. LOL! I think I would have to side with Lynda. Imagine the pictures running through my head right now.

    I must admit I can see why your favorite hang outs are your favorite. So many birds to see. It just takes "patience young Skywalker" ;-)

  3. Great photos of the Kingfisher - he definitely spotted you taking the last one though.

    I have to side with Lynda and Sarah - the image of you throwing yourself to the floor to hide from a barn owl is quite amusing. :-)

  4. Nic (Birdnerdblog)26 June, 2008 21:21

    I think your kingfisher photos are really pretty! The sun being in the "wrong" place just gives them a sort of ethereal look which I think is really nice.
    As for the barn owl incident...well, I'm sure Simon King has injured himself in all sorts of bizarre ways whilst wildlife-watching... :-p