24 December 2008

I'm still here...

It’s been a while since I last posted anything here so I thought I’d better stop by and at least say Happy Christmas!

The past few weeks have just flown by and, once again, Christmas kind of crept up on me. Yes, I know it happens on the same date each year but I STILL find myself leaving everything to the last minute. This year I left things later than ever before - I didn’t do any shopping until last Saturday, December 20th. With time fast running out I decided that I really must face the crowds in the shops - my timing was perfect!

I arrived in Derby at just before 8:00AM, parked the car, went and had a sausage and bacon sandwich and a mug of coffee for my breakfast and then hit the shops. Much to my surprise, and relief, everywhere was very quiet and even by the time I headed for home, just before 11:00AM, the main shopping area was still not exactly busy. Things went so well that I had almost all my shopping done in just that one trip, but just to prolong the “excitement” of Christmas shopping a little longer I went back into Derby the next day too. Once again the shops were quiet. Next year I may leave my shopping until Christmas Eve!

Working in the motor trade means that, over the years, I’ve seen many different and unusual modes of transport turn up at the various places I’ve worked. There’s been everything from vintage Rolls Royce’s to Ferrari’s, Harley Davidson’s to three wheelers. The past week or so has added to the strange sights I’ve come across - twice we’ve had a customer phone us asking if we could clear our car park, so that he could land his helicopter in it!

The works helipad!

My own main mode of transport has been somewhat more down to earth. I’ve been able to continue with my cycling even though the cycle paths have been more like ice rinks at times! I’ve had to contend with mile after mile of ice covered paths, eyes that constantly ran due to the cold air and even a fox with a death wish! At the time the fox issue could well have been a little painful but, looking back, it was rather funny.

I was cycling home along an unlit, and very icy, path one evening when a fox casually walked out in front of me. There was no way I could grab at my brakes or I would have certainly hit the deck due to the ice - all I could do was shout out at the fox, now only around six feet in front of me, and hope that it moved! Luckily, for both of us, it did and I went sailing past. All good fun!

Whilst on the subject of cycling, I’ve now passed my target of riding 1,000 miles by the end of the year. I reached 1,000 miles last Wednesday on the way to work and since then I’ve added another 45 miles to my total. I’ve set myself a target of 2,500 miles for next year.

Have a great Christmas and don’t eat or drink too much... that’s my job!

07 December 2008


I was right about RSPB Conwy - we didn’t see too many birds there yesterday. We did see some quality birds though! In the 2½ hours that we spent on the reserve Lynda & I recorded a total of 40 species. The weather, though very cold, was also great for birding. The light was superb, there was little or no wind and as a result the birds we did see tended to show well.

Conwy Castle & RSPB Reserve.

We arrived at Conwy at just before 11:00am and were met by a reserve warden who handed out maps, reserve passes and also informed us that the Firecrest I was so keen to see hadn’t been seen all day. It wasn’t the news I wanted to hear and, with all due respect to said warden, I didn’t take too much notice of it anyway. My feelings towards wardens are, I’m sad to say, a little tainted at times after I found a Great Northern Diver at Cley NWT reserve many years ago. I reported it to the warden on duty only to be told “You must be wrong. We don’t get those here.” - the bird was reported a number of times, by other birders, over the coming days! Birds can, and will, turn up anywhere.

After moving off from the coach, and onto the reserve, the Firecrest took around 10 minutes to locate. At first I was aware of it calling, then I got a very brief view of what I thought was the bird in flight, shortly after that the little beauty was feeding just feet away from us. Firecrests are always colourful little things but yesterday’s bird was possibly the best I’ve ever seen, maybe due to the quality of the light. The only minor complaint I have is that the bird was so full of energy that I had no chance of getting any photos! It just never stopped moving!

Whilst looking for, and watching, the Firecrest we also located a Wren, a number of Dunnock, a couple of Goldcrest, 6 Long-tailed Tit, numerous Blue Tit, 3 Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, 2 Siskin and also 6 Goldfinch. The Siskin stayed still for a little longer than the Firecrest and so I was able to get my ‘scope and camera trained on them long enough for a few quick photos.


Visits to the hides and a walk around the perimeter path of the reserve gave good views of the two lakes and also the Conwy estuary. Birds of note here included 4 Little Grebe, 2 Little Egret, 10 Shelduck, c60 Teal, 7 Shoveler, 2 female Goldeneye, 4 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Water Rail and 55 Lapwing. A group of 10 Black-tailed Godwit flew onto the reserve from the estuary and a single Kingfisher was seen perched on the edge of the reed bed. I also managed a count of 60 Snipe on one of the small islands near to one of the hides.

View over Conwy RSPB reserve.

After arriving back at the reserve shop and cafĂ© at the end of our walk I decided that I had just enough time to try for one more look at the Firecrest before our coach moved on to Llanfairfechan. The Firecrest showed well but I had to move on quicker than I thought - another bird had been located that I wanted to see, Siberian Chiffchaff. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert (far from it!) on the various “splits” of Chiffchaff but I have to say that the bird we saw yesterday certainly did seem to fit well with the “tristis” form. As with all birding - you make your own rules about what, and how, you list such birds. I have this down as “Chiffchaff - probable tristis.

Llanfairfechan was even quieter in terms of the number of species seen, just 28, but again it was the quality of birding that made the long trip worth while. The sheltered bay, and calm sea, made it reasonably easy to pick up Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Red-breasted Merganser. Oystercatcher, Redshank, Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper were all seen within just a few yards of the sea wall as the tide came in.


A couple of Common Gull were fighting for bread amongst the Herring and Black-headed Gulls that were being fed on the lake in the park, where Mute Swan and Mallard were also noted. A walk along the sea wall added Redwing, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Greenfinch to our list. A little time sat scanning the sea also provided me with a single Black Guillemot as it flew by. Walking back to the coach as the sun set turned up what was, for me, an unexpected bird when we spotted a Dipper feeding in a small river just a few feet from the car park and only around 100yds from the sea. Unexpected it may have been but it was a rather nice way to end the day.

Llanfairfechan view.


Today, even though I really should have stayed home in the warm to try and shake off the remnants of my MAN FLU, I took a drive over to Belper in search of Waxwings. A group of 5 birds have been feeding in a car park in the town for the past couple of days and the possibility of adding this species to my “10-Mile List” was just too tempting.

I stood around in the freezing cold for almost an hour before a couple of Waxwing came to feed. They stayed for around three or four minutes before flying off again. They didn’t return during the following hour so I came home again! Yes, I would have liked to have watched the birds for longer but at least this time I did get to see them.

Whilst stood around waiting for the Waxwings I also noted a further 21 species - not bad for a car park in the middle of town. The most unexpected bird was a male Blackcap that was feeding in the same tree as the Waxwings. No doubt this little warbler was none too happy with the temperature this morning, still below freezing at 10:30am, and was wishing it had chosen to move on to warmer climes at the end of the summer!

Waxwing takes my “10-Mile List” count to 136 species for the year. Will this prove to be the final new species of the year?

05 December 2008

At last, the weekend...

It’s Friday, and I’m more than happy to see the weekend arrive! Apart from the snow and ice that have made my cycling rather dangerous or, even worse, nonexistent I’ve had to battle through the dreaded MAN FLU! It all started on Tuesday afternoon, the day the snow first hit, and has slowly gotten worse - I’m sure that it is only my clean-living, healthy lifestyle that has enabled me to pull through. The extra couple of sausage, bacon, egg and mushroom sandwiches I had at work may have helped too! The half a bottle of whisky I’ve got through, in coffee or hot lemonade at night, was purely medicinal I must add!

Tomorrow, for the first time in almost three months, Lynda and I are on an RSPB coach trip - we’re crossing the border and heading into North Wales. We’ll be visiting Llanfairfechan (no, my keyboard isn’t acting up. That IS a place name!) and also RSPB Conwy. It will be the first time we’ve visited Llanfairfechan so I’m not too sure what we will see there. RSPB Conwy I have visited before, many many years ago, and as I remember it, we didn’t see too much! That said, I am keeping my fingers crossed that the Firecrest that has been reported from Conwy for much of this week will hang around until after I’ve seen it tomorrow!

Whilst getting my camera ready for tomorrow I came across some photos I meant to post in the week - the man flu must have affected my memory, I forgot! They were taken last Sunday afternoon, leaning out of the bedroom window trying to avoid getting too many houses and cars in shot! We may not have the nicest of views at home but every now and again nature sends us a little treat. All the photos are straight off the camera - no enhancing or altering of exposure.

01 December 2008

A welcome return...

After months of waiting, one of my favourite birds made a come back over the weekend. No silly, NOT Britney Spears on X-Factor, a Smew! But, now you mention it... how bad was Britney on X-Factor eh? Okay, she may have looked the part but come on, what’s with the (very poor) lip-synching? Any way, I digress.

Yesterday morning I managed to haul myself out of bed in time to get a couple of hours of birding in before lunch. With time fast running out for me to add extra species to my "10-Mile List" before the end of the year there really was only one place I could head for, Long Eaton Gravel Pits. Bet you thought I was going to say Willington, didn’t you?

Long Eaton Gravel Pits.

Long Eaton Gravel Pits aren’t the birding hot spot they once were - they’ve provided me with such goodies as Black-throated Diver, Corn Bunting, Merlin, Pectoral Sandpiper, Ring-necked Duck, Woodchat Shrike and Bluethroat in the past - but they do still pull in one or two little treats. This weekend it was the aforementioned Smew. Unfortunately it wasn’t an adult male, but when you’re in need of every single year tick a redhead Smew is as good as any. I had chased after Smew numerous times at the start of the year, without success, so this was one bird I was more than pleased to see back in my "zone".

Despite the very cold conditions - well below freezing with the wind chill - I managed to record 32 species during my two-hour visit. As is to be expected at an old gravel pit site the main interest was wildfowl with counts of 162 Wigeon, 5 Teal, 16 Shoveler, 127 Pochard, 29 Tufted Duck and, of course, 1 Smew.

Other counts/notable birds included 29 Great Crested Grebe, 118 Coot, 1 Common Snipe, 3 Common Gull, 58 Black-headed Gull and 10 Fieldfare. There were also plenty of Mallard, but once again I couldn’t bring myself to start and count them! Don’t know what it is about Mallard but I never quite get the urge to set about counting the things!

Whilst out and about yesterday I noticed that on more than one occasion dog walkers failed to return my friendly “Good morning” as we passed. Having been ignored once again, I suddenly thought it might have been my appearance that was the problem...

...well, it was VERY cold!

The redhead Smew takes my "10-Mile List" to 135 species for the year.