31 January 2009

Slowing down...

After last Sunday morning’s rather rushed birding I decided that today I would treat myself to a more relaxed day. I spent almost five hours out and about just enjoying the day, the clear blue skies and, of course, the birds. I did have one or two species in mind that I wanted to try and track down but I was certainly not going to be chasing around like last week!

My first stop was Swarkestone Sailing Lake and the chance of adding Scaup to my “10-Mile List”. Up to four birds have been reported from this location over the past two weeks so I was reasonably confident of finding at least one bird. This was also to be the one and only bird that I would be twitching during the morning - I admit, I did check one or two websites late last night for the latest details of Scaup sightings!

An hour spent checking the lake and surrounding trees and hedges rewarded me with a total of 22 species including Scaup. I failed to locate the male bird but did get good views of two females. Other sightings of note included 6 Great Crested Grebe, c50 Greylag Geese, 55 Tufted Duck, a male Goosander and 6 Stock Dove. Three Rook that flew over the car just as I was about to get back into it were a welcome sight as they were the first within my 10-mile zone this year.

Having gotten the twitching out of the way for the morning I moved on to Dimminsdale Nature Reserve on the Derbyshire/Leicestershire border, a small woodland reserve that I’ve not visited for something like 15 or 20 years. Here, I hoped to pick up a few of the more common species that have escaped me so far this year. I also took the opportunity to try out my new mobile phone or to be more precise the camera on my new mobile! I don’t think it will replace my trusty old Kodak compact but, at 5 mega pixels, it should have it uses.

Entering Dimminsdale.

I lost myself amongst the peace and quiet of Dimminsdale for almost an hour and a half and in that time recorded 17 species. It may have been a little quiet bird wise but, to be honest, I really wasn’t bothered; today was about slowing things down, enjoying being outside and not having to worry about work. Things were working out just fine. Pick of the birds at Dimminsdale were 3 Buzzard, a Kingfisher, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and 2 male Bullfinches. New birds for my “10-Mile List” came in the form of Goldcrest and Treecreeper. The flowering snowdrops at the south-western end of the reserve were also rather nice to see too.

Woodland snowdrops.

The walk from the reserve back to the car park took me past the southern end of Staunton Harold Reservoir and also gave me my fifth, and final, new species for the day when two Raven flew directly overhead. Just a few years ago Raven, along with Buzzard, would have been a very special sighting for me in Southern Derbyshire. Now, I come across both species on a fairly regular basis - how times have changed. The reservoir itself, or at least the bit of it I could see from the road, held 3 Little Grebe, 3 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Grey Heron, 40 Wigeon, 55 Teal numerous Mallard and Tufted Duck and 5 Goldeneye. A Buzzard soared overhead for a while; it’s mewing call alerting myself and the birds to its presence.

My final stop-off was the Carvers Rocks Nature Reserve at the southern end of Foremark Reservoir. Here I had hoped to find Marsh Tit but it wasn’t to be. Once again the woodland proved to be very quiet with just seven species being located actually within the woodland. Two Treecreeper held my attention for some while - have you ever studied these birds closely? They have the most stunning plumage! A friendly Robin came to within six feet of me and half a dozen Long-tailed Tits performed their crazy acrobatics directly above me at one point.

The bare beauty of winter.

Out on the reservoir I counted a further 10 species, these included 12 Great Crested Grebe, 8 Wigeon, 4 Gadwall, c40 Mallard, c100 Tufted Duck and 2 Goosander. A large gull roost was starting to gather at the far end of the reservoir but time was now getting on, and I was getting very hungry, so I didn’t have the time to walk close enough to check for anything unusual. I did manage to pick out quite a few Common Gull in flight but that was about all.

My 4½ hours out birding today gave me five new species for my “10-Mile List” - Scaup, Rook, Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Raven - but more importantly it slowed life down to a steady crawl again. Quite a result I reckon!

Tomorrow is already planned, or at least the full cooked breakfast that will precede the birding is!

My “10-Mile List” now stands at 81 species.

26 January 2009

Too much information...

Web sites and e-mails. Mobile phones and text messages. Pagers! Are they, along with binoculars and a telescope, the essential tools of the modern birder or do they just add to the chaotic lifestyles we find ourselves being subjected to? Birding to my way of thinking should be about taking time out to clear one’s head, to escape from the day-to-day grind of the workplace and to generally slow down. So why doesn’t it happen that way? I blame information technology!

Yesterday started off quiet enough for me - I hadn’t switched on my mobile phone or my PC - and I spent the first hour of my morning recording all the birds seen in or around the garden as part of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. By 9:30AM I’d recorded a total of 15 species, nine of which qualified for the Big Garden Birdwatch by actually landing in my recording area. The nine were Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Dunnock, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Starling and Magpie.

The six flyover sightings were Teal, Sparrowhawk, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Jackdaw and Carrion Crow. The big surprise was the Teal - quite why a single Teal was flying over such a built up area as this I don’t know! The LBB Gull was also a new species for my “10-Mile List”, so that alone made it worth staring out of the bedroom window for an hour.

It was after the garden birding that things started to get a little more hectic - I turned on my mobile phone and my PC. A quick check of the Birdguides news page and it was clear that the Waxwing flock in nearby Ilkeston had not yet been reported on Sunday morning, but they had been seen during the previous afternoon. As there was nothing else of note nearby I decided to chance my luck and go and try for the Waxwings anyway. Just as I was walking out of the door my mobile went off, a text message from my birding friend Mike, he had located a couple of drake Pintail at Willington Gravel Pits.

I now had a problem... should I go for the Pintail and be more or less guaranteed another bird for my “10-Mile List” or should I stick with trying for the Waxwing flock. Lynda’s input on the subject had me heading for Willington! “Go for the easy tick!

The Pintail proved to be very easy to locate. They were swimming up and down the Gull Pit and gave great views from platform 3 at the end of the lane. Other birds out on the water included 229 Wigeon (my highest ever count here), 8 Gadwall, 6 Teal, 43 Pochard and a female Goldeneye. A single Buzzard was seen briefly as it soared over Canal Scrape and a Great Black-backed Gull over the new workings gave me yet another new bird for the ever-growing “10-Mile List”. The pick of the birds seen in the lane included Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Greenfinch and Bullfinch.

At 11:15AM technology dictated the pace and venue of my morning’s birding once more. Another text message arrived on my phone and, after a quick return call to confirm the details, I was leaving Willington in a hurry and heading to Ilkeston. The Waxwing flock had shown up! As I jumped into the car it suddenly dawned on me - I had no map and no way of finding my way through the new housing estate the birds had been seen in! Yet another phone call, this time to home, and Lynda was able to send directions back to me via yet another text message.

It was on the drive to Ilkeston that my “10-Mile List” came very close to literally hitting species number 75 when a pair of Grey Partridge flew across the road just feet in front of the car. I managed to get very close, if brief, views of the birds but it didn’t do much for my heart rate. I reckon it must have been close to 200 beats a minute! Oh, and the brakes on the car work okay too!

The Waxwings hadn’t been seen for around 15 minutes when I arrived but, after a further half-hour or so, a small group of them did return to the trees right next to where I was stood. If the light had been better then they would have been in a great position to photograph. As it was, my camera was unable to focus properly through my ‘scope and the chance was missed. That aside, it was great to be able to watch the Waxwings at close quarters and also to hear their trilling calls so well. If only these birds would expand their summer range and take up residence in the UK.

So, with the help and/or hindrance of the latest information technology I was able to add a further 5 new species to my “10-Mile List” yesterday bringing the current total to 76 species. I must admit that I was more than happy to have seen the Pintail, Grey Partridge and Waxwing but, as I sat and updated my records last night, I couldn’t help but think that a day out just looking for and watching my own birds may well have been even more enjoyable.

Your thoughts on the growing use of I.T. in birdwatching would be more than welcome!

19 January 2009

Suffering with the wind...

Once again, the weather Gods looked after us on Saturday and the rain that had been forecast for the Humber area stayed away. In its place we had strong winds, very strong winds! I spent much of the day trying to make sure the wind didn’t whip my baseball cap off my head - if it had, then I’m sure it wouldn’t have landed until it reached Holland!

Far Ings Nature Reserve was our first port of call and in the three hours spent there Lynda and I located a total of 42 species. It wasn’t a huge species count but it was certainly worked for - the near gale force winds meant that most of the birds were tucked away well out of sight. The more (fool) hardy birds that did show well included 16 Shelduck, c100 Wigeon and 14 Common Redshank out on the Humber Estuary. The more sheltered pools held 3 Little Grebe, 3 Great Crested Grebe, 14 Gadwall, 24 Teal, 14 Shoveler, 35 Pochard, 8 Goldeneye and 1 male Goosander. A male Sparrowhawk caused panic amongst the wildfowl on a number of occasions as it made low level passes over the water.

Four species of gull were seen as we battled our way along the riverside path, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Black-headed Gull. The two reserve feeding stations provided the best/easiest birding of the morning due to their location being such that it kept much of the wind off the birds. A total of 12 different species could be seen on or around the bird feeders with Willow Tit, Reed Bunting, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrow being the pick of the bunch. The very last bird to be added to our site list was Curlew; a single bird flew low over the road just as our coach was pulling out of the car park. A pleasant enough morning’s birding but it could have been much better, and warmer, without the mini-hurricane blowing!

A little under an hour after leaving Far Ings and we arrived at Blacktoft Sands RSPB Reserve. Far Ings may have been a little quiet but, on Saturday, Blacktoft was positively sleepy. Having just loaded all of the birds seen onto my sightings database I think it would be more fitting to say that Blacktoft had fallen into a coma! In total Lynda and I came up with the grand total of just 28 species.

Even on such a quiet day there is always going to be at least one high point and on Saturday it had to be the Marsh Harriers. At least 5 harriers could be seen at any one time and on numerous occasions up to 3 birds were to be seen very close to the hides. During the rare moments that the harriers weren’t close at hand then the 3 Black-tailed Godwits that were feeding in front of Singleton Hide kept us entertained.

Other than the harriers and the godwits there really wasn’t much else to write home about... 5 Shelduck, 7 Wigeon, 8 Shoveler and 1 Common Snipe. With the aid of a ‘scope, Lapwing and Golden Plover could also be seen but they were in flight and a long, long way away. Much farther away and they could have joined my wind-blown cap in Holland!

By 4:00PM Lynda and I, and a number of others in the group, decided that the excitement was all just a little too much and we headed back to the relative warmth of the coach. In true birding fashion, the best bird of the day put in an appearance minutes after we left the hide - a superb male Hen Harrier (so I’m told!) was seen flying over the reed bed by the few brave souls that stayed in the hide until just before the coach left for home!

The plan for this weekend is to get back out in my 10-Mile zone for some real birding. Weather permitting that is!

16 January 2009

A, very, quiet start...

I’ve been chastised, quite rightly, for not updating my Blog since January 4th. My excuse... I’ve had nothing worth posting! That apparently isn’t a good enough excuse for my absence, so here’s the first of this weekend’s updates.


It’s taken me almost two weeks but I finally added another bird to my 2009 “10-Mile List” today. I cut short my usual 6-mile cycle ride to work and instead took a shorter, more direct, ride via Alvaston Lake. The lake is now ice-free for the first time in a number of weeks and, as a result, the birds are starting to return. Most notable of my sightings this morning were 10 Mute Swan (the usual family group), 150 Canada Geese, 14 Pochard, 10 Tufted Duck, 8 Goosander, 1 Little Grebe, 1 Heron, c350 Black-Headed Gull and, new to my list, 2 Green Woodpecker. The Goosander were a particularly pleasing sight as this was the highest number that I’ve recorded on this small, city, lake since Christmas Eve 2007 and was the second highest count I’ve ever had here; Christmas 2007 saw 9 birds present.

The addition of Green Woodpecker takes my “10-Mile List” to 71 species.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking my first birding trip of the year outside of Derbyshire, a coach trip with the Derby RSPB Group to Far Ings and also Blacktoft RSPB reserve. The weather forecast isn’t looking too great at the moment but it is looking better than Sunday! The wind and rain are on their way and I’ll probably be giving the local birding a miss again. At least it looks like I’ll have a valid excuse this weekend - last weekend it was Sunday lunch in the pub that kept me away from my bins and ‘scope!


So far, 2009 has been almost problem free on the cycling front with no punctures, no unexpected mechanical failures and only one day when the heavy rain persuaded me that the car was the better option. As a result I’ve already covered over 116 miles. It’s a fair start but there’s one heck of a lot of peddling to do before I reach my goal of 2,500 miles!

So, there you have it reader, the past two weeks in a nutshell. I told you I had nothing worth posting!

04 January 2009

Hitting 70...

Two mornings of birding, 39 new species for the year located. It couldn’t have worked out much better really. Of the birds I had expected to see there were a few that eluded me - 10 to be precise! - but I did manage to pick up other, unexpected, species that acted as replacements. Some of the birds I failed to locate include one or two surprises... no Green Woodpecker, no Skylark or Meadow Pipit, no Treecreeper and, somehow, no Rook!

Highlights of the five hours spent out in the freezing cold on Saturday included four Bewick’s Swans, eight Egyptian Geese, a Ruddy Shelduck and a Tree Sparrow, all at Barton in Fabis, just over the border in Nottinghamshire. Next it was back into Derbyshire and Long Eaton Gravel Pits, with the hope of a Smew. There was no sign of the Smew but I did pick up another 11 new species. Best bird here was a female Stonechat, which is a species that I failed to locate within my 10-mile zone last year. Little Grebe, Wigeon, Shoveler, Pochard and Snipe were other birds of note that I also saw at Long Eaton.

Are these the worst ever digi-scoped photos of a Bewick's Swan?

But look how far away they were!

By now it was 12:30PM and I was starting to feel the cold - even more than I had all morning! The cold was bad enough but driving around in a car with an ice warning light was worse - the damn thing was constantly flashing either red or orange at me depending on just how cold it was! I decided I’d had enough for one day and headed for home and a much-needed hot dinner, but not before stopping off at Aston on Trent Gravel Pits!

As there is no public access at Aston I had to make do with viewing the area from the entrance gate. It was far from ideal but I did add Shelduck, Common Redshank and Grey Wagtail to my steadily growing list. I also missed out on Smew once again - the pair that have been reported here over the past week or so failed to show. Time to head home, enjoy my lunch and try and get warm.

No sooner had I arrived home and I got a text message from my good friend, and fellow birder, Mike. He had located a flock of Golden Plover less than 2 miles from my house. There was nothing for it, I had to go for them. This was another species that I had missed in 2008. I drove to the place Mike had seen the Goldie's, scanned the fields and drew a blank. Either they had moved or I was in the wrong place.

A quick drive around some of the other roads finally paid off and I located a small group of plover in another field. The only problem was, if I was to have a good enough view to be certain of their identification I would have to park illegally, in an emergency lay-by with double yellow lines, on a duel carriageway, on a flyover! I’m pleased to say I was able to add Golden Plover to my list! I finished the day with a total of 61 species on my “10-Mile List”.

I started today with a brief visit to Allestree Park and quickly added Nuthatch and Siskin to my list. The cold weather actually helped me here as almost all of the lake was frozen over. As a result, the four Mandarin Duck there had to come out into the open to bathe and I was able to see them. If the lake hadn’t been covered with ice then I may well have missed the Mandarin - another unexpected tick.

From Allestree it was a short drive to Kedleston to try for the White-fronted Goose that has been present since the middle of December. If I hadn’t been suffering with “Man Flu” and then having Christmas shopping to do I would have gone for the goose last year, as it was I didn’t. Luckily, the White-front has stuck around and it proved to be a very easy tick today. I parked in the golf club car park, no doubt seen by the multitude of security cameras they have, walked across the road to view the goose field and spotted the bird almost immediately. Sixty-five species located, just another five needed.

Next stop was Staunton Harold Reservoir on the Derbyshire/Leicestershire border and yet another attempt to find Smew. A male had been reported at the southern end of the reservoir yesterday afternoon and, much to my relief, it was still there today. Of all the duck species, I think that a male Smew must be my favourite - they’re just stunning. Just to make the trip even more worthwhile a single Pink-footed Goose was in the Greylag Goose flock, yet another new and unexpected bird. A pair of Goldeneye here took my “10-Mile List” to 68 species. I was starting to think that 70 was within reach.

It was now just after 10:30AM and I was starting to feel the cold again. I’d been stood around for much of my time outside and needed to start and move around a little. I decided on a visit to Willington Gravel Pits. You just knew that place would crop up sooner or later, didn’t you? Well, it was close by and a walk to the end of the lane and around to Canal Scrape would warm me up a little.

Willington was possibly the quietest I’ve ever seen it with just 33 species located. It did prove to be worthwhile though - the walk warmed me up (a little) and I found the two species needed to hit my weekend target. At least three Water Rail were heard calling from the frozen reed beds but were not seen so they are listed as a “heard only” tick at the moment, just like last year. The walk back to the car from Canal Scrape, as the snow started to fall, provided me with the final new bird of the day and the weekend. Species number 70 was a Buzzard perched on a rather flimsy looking tree. From the look of the bird, it was feeling the cold even more than I was - it did not look happy with life! Then again, the snow was blowing straight into its face!

Last year I started this “10-Mile List” thing in March and had 71 species in the bag by the end of the first weekend. This year, I’m just one short of that figure and I have a two month head start - I wonder just what my total will be come the end of the year?

02 January 2009

The first weekend...

We’re less than 48 hours into 2009 but already it’s “GAME ON”!

I have two days off work, the weather is looking like being dry if somewhat cold, so I’m going to make the most of it and get out birding. By the time the sun sets on Sunday afternoon I’d like to have close to 70 species on my 2009 “10-Mile List”. It may not be the most relaxed birding I do this year but I’m hoping it will be the weekend that sees me add the largest number of new species to my list. If it all goes wrong I may just hang up my ‘bins and retire for the next 12 months!

If you happen to be in the area around the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border this weekend and see a crazy birder running around say hello, it could well be me! Just don’t expect me to spend hours chatting... I have targets to meet!

01 January 2009

Looking back but moving on...

So, here we go again! It’s New Year and that means new starts. There are new gigs to attend, new bands to see. New lists to start, new birds to find. New targets to aim for, more miles to cycle. Looking forward it all sounds exciting stuff - in reality, it’s just another year like any other! Nothing much changes, does it?

Santa's been!

Christmas 2008... see my Blog posts for 2005, 2006 and 2007 for a full re-cap, it was exactly the same this year! And that means it was a great Christmas - we like it to be a quiet time in this house. We ate lots (though not too much), we drank a fair amount (though not to excess) and we played the Jive Bunny Christmas CD whilst we opened our presents, and drank Buck’s Fizz, on Christmas morning. We have our traditions here, and we like to stick to them! Tradition has it that Lynda must drink Sherry whilst preparing Christmas lunch, it also dictates that I have a rather large malt whisky to accompany her. After eating a delicious lunch of turkey (what else?) with all the extras we then settled down in front of the TV and didn’t really move again for the rest of the day - apart from topping up the food and alcohol levels that is.

Lynda makes a great Christmas cake!

A 3 mile walk on Boxing Day and then a 20 mile cycle ride on Sunday will, hopefully, have burnt off a few of the calories that came gift wrapped in all the food and drink I’ve enjoyed over the festive period. If not then I’m going to have to make sure I up the pace a little on the daily commute to and from work next week. If nothing else it will have got a few miles under my belt as I attempt to cycle a minimum of 2,500 miles in 2009.

New Year’s Eve and we did the usual. We stayed home; we ate way too much food and drank plenty too. The fireworks kicked off all around us at mid-night but this year we stayed in front of the TV and watched the firework display from the London Eye instead of standing in the bedroom window watching fireworks here. It may not be the most exciting way to spend New Year but at least it means we don’t have to fight the crowds to get a drink in a pub or get ripped off for a taxi fare home. Staying home also means we don’t have to face some drunken Muppet who wants to take on the world come mid-night. It’s also easier to stagger to bed when you don’t have too far to go!

Today Lynda & I managed to revive another of our traditions, that the weather put a stop to last year, we went for our New Year’s Day walk. We covered just over 6 miles along the roads and footpaths around our local area. It’s not the most scenic of walks at times but at least it means we get some exercise and fresh air without having to get the car out. Driving on New Year’s Day may not be too good for our driving licences either! “No oshifer I’s not been drinkin’, onisht!”.

Feeding the local wildlife.

Icicles by the River Derwent.

Although today’s walk wasn’t a birding outing - I didn’t even take my binoculars - I did make a note of everything we saw and by the time we returned home I already had 31 species recorded for my new 2009 “10-Mile List”. Once again, birds seen within 10 miles of home will be the main focus of my birding over the next 12 months. Last year I set myself a benchmark by recording 136 species within my chosen zone. This year, I’d love to better that total but it will take a rather special run of birds to help me do it.