27 February 2009
24 February 2009
On the way home from work this evening I encountered a Harris's Hawk hunting along the banks of the River Derwent, at the rear of Pride Park Stadium. This has left me with a decision to make - should I count what is without doubt an escaped bird on my "10-Mile List" or not? The BOU has this species on the "Category E" list (Species that have been recorded as introductions, transportees or escapees from captivity, and whose British breeding populations (if any) are thought not to be self-sustaining). I guess the decision has been made for me. The hawk misses out on a place on my list!
Having arrived home and given the bike a quick service it was then time to eat. I sat down to my pancakes and had a decision to make - should I have lemon juice, orange juice, maple syrup or a mixture of each on them? Five very large pancakes later and I'd overcome that little problem! I love pancakes with anything on them!
Now... shall I have a beer or a whisky? Decisions, decisions!
23 February 2009
I begrudgingly dragged myself over to Foremark Reservoir in the hope of adding Iceland Gull to my "10-Mile List" but the gull had other ideas and failed to come in to the roost. It wasn't a total waste of 2 hours of my life though as I was lucky enough to get Herring Gull, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a Yellow-legged Gull, all of which were new birds for the year. If it hadn't have been for those three species I think I could quite easily have thrown my 'scope and binoculars in the reservoir and then jumped in after them! If anyone is planning on trying for the Foremark Iceland Gull feel free to use my bench... I don't think I'll be needing it any time soon!
Oh, one more gull issue before I move on... Yesterday morning I washed the car, it looked great, all black and shiny in the sun. I parked at Foremark and within minutes around 200 Black-headed Gulls had spotted something in the car park that must have looked like food. Shiny black car + gulls = one heck of a lot of sh*t! I washed most of the car off again, in the dark, once I got home!
Before Foremark, I had stopped off at Barrow upon Trent Gravel Pits, a site I'd not yet visited this year. I failed to locate the Red-legged Partridges that I had hoped for but did pick up one new species in the form of Meadow Pipit. Four Scaup were on the main lake, a male and 3 females - I assume they were the birds that have been on Swarkestone Sailing Lake for the past month or so.
In total I recorded 33 species in just over an hour with some of the more notable being a Shelduck, 180 Wigeon, 30 Teal, 100 Tufted Duck, 4 Goldeneye, 2 Goosander, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, Stock Dove, Grey Wagtail and a large mixed flock of Fieldfare and Redwing. With the exception of the Scaup all the birds seen were common enough species but it was a nice walk around all the same, and it sure beat the heck out of freezing my butt off whilst looking at those damn gulls later in the afternoon!
The "10-Mile List" now stands at 94 species.
20 February 2009
As it was Lynda's birthday yesterday we have both had the past two days off work. Yesterday was spent relaxing at home, having a light lunch and huge coffees at Starbucks and then loading dozens of music tracks onto Lynda's new MP3 player. In the evening we went to the Waterfront Pub & Restaurant at Barton Marina for a meal and a few drinks. The meal was great but maybe, just maybe, we didn't need to have had a piece of cheesy garlic bread each - neither Lynda or myself had room for pudding after our main courses. Most unusual!
So, back to the arrival of spring. This morning I had a few hours birding at Willington Gravel Pits and added another 5 new species to my "10-Mile List". The walk down the lane was still a little quiet but the birds that were there were singing well and that made up for the lack of numbers. Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Chaffinch were all in fine voice as were a few Greenfinches. The first new bird for my year list was a single male Yellowhammer that I almost managed to walk right past without noticing. Luckily, the bird started to sing just as I was passing it and species number 86 was on my "10-Mile List".
Out on the main pit the number of ducks has now started to fall but there was still plenty to see. Notable counts included 5 Shelduck, 25 Wigeon, 4 Gadwall, 4 Shoveler and 12 Pochard. The Goosander numbered just 4 birds when I first arrived at the reserve but by mid-day had reached a total of 24 birds, my highest ever count of this species here. Many of the male birds are now in full breeding plumage, complete with that delicate pink flush, and looked absolutely stunning in the bright sunshine. The second new bird of the year again gave itself away to me by calling - an Oystercatcher. With this species there is not much chance of missing a bird if it's around, do they ever shut up?
The view from P3.
Having reached the end of the lane I pitched camp on the viewing platform and waited to see what would appear, whilst enjoying the warmth of the sun on my back. Pity about the cold wind hitting my face, but you can't have everything. A flock of around 700 Lapwing was often seen flying over the reserve and the gravel works and, on closer inspection, carried two Golden Plover with them. A pair of Buzzard soared high over the Toyota works and 4 Stock Dove were also seen in flight.
At 10:45am a group of 15 Curlew flew low over the reserve but didn't land and immediately after that a single Skylark took to the air and started to sing. Species number 88 and 89 for the "10-Mile List" were duly noted! This was turning into a rather productive morning.
The final new bird for the day, and the year, wasn't fully confirmed until around 6 hours after I'd seen it - I'm quite happy to admit that I needed to check its ID on the internet! I'm also happy to admit that I don't have much of an interest in gulls so I wasn't familiar with the plumage of the bird I was looking at. Now all you local birders, don't go getting all excited, I've not suppressed a "mega" it was only a Caspian Gull. The honour of being species number 90 on my "10-Mile List" goes to a gull, I'm just thankful that it wasn't number 100!
Once back at home it was time to set about the garden - I've mown both the lawns, cut back a number of shrubs and a rose and dug all the borders over. I'm not saying we have a picture perfect little show garden yet but it does at least look presentable again. By the time I'd finished at least two of our neighbours had started up their mowers too. They must hate it when I decide spring is here and they have to follow in my footsteps! Ha, I get' em every year!
So, on a day when I've seen Oystercatcher, Curlew and Skylark back at Willington and I've also cut the grass for the first time this year I've decided SPRING IS HERE! And most welcome it is too!
15 February 2009
The day started off with a little bit of a scare - we overslept by almost half an hour - but thankfully we still arrived in Derby in plenty of time to catch the coach to Lancashire. For the first hour or so of the day I was in a complete daze and didn't know whether it was Monday, Wednesday or Christmas Day! I did manage to pull myself around in time to locate the pair of Peregrine that have made Derby Cathedral their home, whilst we waited for the coach - species number 85 on my 2009 "10-Mile List".
The trip north went off without any real problems even if it was a little chilly. A couple of overhead heater vents on the coach refused to blow hot air and instead blasted the rear half of the coach with air drawn straight from outside! A real pain in the neck - literally! The driver, to his credit, did stop the coach briefly not too far into the journey and did manage to reduce the problem to some extent.
Once at Martin Mere the first little task was to locate Nic (Birdnerdblog) whom we had arranged to spend the day with. A couple of text messages were sent back and forth and just a short while after our coach pulled into the car park at the reserve Nic arrived too. Once the formalities of our first ever meeting were out of the way Lynda, Nic and myself set off for a quick look around the captive bird collection - well, someone has to go and feed the Nenes! Yes, I did do my share of the feeding too! Those Nene are just too cute to ignore.
Having spent the best part of an hour in the "tame" part of the reserve we headed off in search of the wild birds, the real reason for our visit. The first stop was Swanlink Hide, the hide with the best overall view of the wild swans. From here we were able to enjoy close views of the Whooper Swans that help make Martin Mere such an important winter site. I didn't even attempt a count but I'd estimate that there were at least 1200 Whoopers on the mere with more out in the surrounding fields, a superb sight.
The mere itself held 1000's of birds - Greylag Geese, Shelduck, Wigeon, Mallard, Pintail, Pochard and Lapwing were all present in large numbers. Smaller numbers of Teal were also located along with 8 Oystercatcher, 1 Golden Plover (strange to see just one), 1 Curlew that took flight with the Lapwing, 1 Common Redshank and around 25 Ruff. Lynda also picked out a couple of Common Buzzard away in the distance that were to give much closer views later in the day. A Greater Black-backed Gull provided us with a few moments of rather gruesome entertainment as it fed on the remains of a rather unfortunate bird. Just what the bird had once been I cannot say as the gull had already reached the dessert stage of its meal - there was little more than a skeleton left!
The feeding station at the Janet Kear Hide was unusually quiet and we only paused there for a very short while. One or two Blue Tits, Chaffinches and Greenfinches were coming for food but that was about all - we moved on to the Harrier Hide. The open water in front of the hide held yet more Shelduck, a pair of Gadwell and a few Tufted Duck. Lynda was once again on form and located 3 male Shoveler that had tried to hide themselves away from view on the edge of a distant reed bed. I had hoped to see Peregrine from this hide but there was no sign. I did get a brief view of a Kestrel as it flew behind a line of trees.
A single Reed Bunting, the only one we saw all day, was at the feeding station near the United Utilities Hide and a Kingfisher was perched under a bridge near to the hide. The Kingfisher would have been one of the sightings of the day had it not been for the fact that it had chosen to hide ½ of its body from view behind some brambles! From the top of the hide we could see out onto the mere and also the surrounding fields - Pink-footed Geese showed well as did a pair of Stonechat. A Skylark was singing somewhere close to the hide but, try as I might, I couldn't locate it! Another birder in the hide overheard me asking about Bewick's Swan sightings and promptly pointed out the only one on the reserve to us! The Bewick's was, we were told, a bird know as Jenny that is now 20 years old. I wonder just how many miles that swan has covered on its migration flights to and from the UK over the years?
Next stop off was the Ron Barker Hide at the opposite end of the reserve. The walk around to the hide provided us with little more than some exercise but we did manage to add Dunnock and Tree Sparrow to the list of birds seen. A single Goldcrest was also heard. As usual, Ron Barker Hide was very busy and we had to make do with seats on the side of the hide that looked out over fields rather than open water. This didn't really prove to be much of an issue as we were able to see some great birds in the end! It also gave us a little room to get a bite to eat too! Love the pink flask, Nic!
The next hour or so turned into a bit of a raptor fest. First it was a male Sparrowhawk that put in an appearance. Soon after, an immature male Marsh Harrier was centre of attention. For a while the bird was watched hunting over the reed beds and then it suddenly dropped out of sight only to re-appear moments later carrying prey of some kind. The harrier did try and land in a small tree with its lunch but, unfortunately, it couldn't find a strong enough perch and so moved down onto the floor and out of sight. It did take to the air a while later, no doubt after eating its fill, and then continued to show well.
At least two Common Buzzard could be seen from the hide and this time gave much closer views. Lynda was yet again the one to pick out the best bird when she located a Merlin sat on a fence post a couple of fields away. This, it turned out, was a new species for Nic and she was just a little pleased with the find. Just a few minutes later Nic had her second Merlin sighting when another bird flew past the hide much closer than the first! Just like buses, you wait ages for one and then two come along! A couple of Ringed Plover were new birds for the day here as were the 3 Stock Dove that were sat on the roof of an old barn a little way away from the hide.
The last hour and a half of our day was spent in the Raines Observatory were we watched the wild bird feed. Watching the feed is something that I've not bothered with for years now but I must admit that yesterday it was one of the highlights of the day. It was great to be able to just sit and actually watch the 1000's of swans, geese and ducks at such close quarters - even the Ruff came close to us towards the end of the feed. The commentary from the chap doing the feed was also very interesting and explained just why at least 6 of the swans were carrying radio transmitters on their backs. I had suggested it was so that birders could take control of the swans and race them up and down the mere! It turns out that it was so that the migration routes of the birds could be tracked! I like my idea better.
As the day was drawing to a close my mobile phone suddenly sprang into life with a text message, it was Mike letting us know that a Barn Owl was showing well from where he was on the reserve. Before I could even start to reply to his text Nic had spotted the owl hunting at the rear of the mere. For the next hour or so the Barn Owl continued to show well and must be in line for the "Bird of the day" award - although the Merlin just about beats it in my book.
So, that was Martin Mere. Maybe not a day with huge species counts - I logged 61 species - but a day full of great memories none the less. It was also rather refreshing to spend time with Nic who, I'm sure wont mind me saying, is much more of a "bird watcher" than a "birder". That alone made the day all the more enjoyable for me. I actually sat and watched birds yesterday without worrying about the less important things like species counts!
Nic... I'll be in touch about another trip your way soon. And if you can arrange it, Derbyshire has one or two places that are just about worth a visit too!
To read a MUCH better written account of the day visit... Birdnerdblog.
The swans gather before the feed.
The food is put out.
Spot the radio control swans!
The Shelduck move in.
13 February 2009
Song Thrush, Blackbird and Robin were all in full song as I rode along the river path heading out of Derby and rabbits were already out feeding on the grass. A flock of around 30 geese (I'm almost certain they'd be Canada's) flew low over Pride Park Stadium and dropped down either on Alvaston Park or The Sanctuary nature reserve, obviously going to roost. I didn't manage to see a fox on my ride tonight but I have done so on a couple of occasions this week.
When I arrived home at just before 6:00PM "my" Blackbirds were busy falling out with each other over just who had territorial rights to the gardens close by - this rather noisy battle was still going on after dark! "Blackbird going to bed time" as it is know in our house has always provided one of my favourite sounds in nature - the end of day song, contact calls and alarm calls of the Blackbirds - but this evening it meant just a little more to me. Hopefully, it signals the end of the snow of the past two weeks and the start of some slightly better weather to come.
The bat that was flying around above the garden, as I topped up the bird feeders with sunflower hearts and peanut granules, was a rather surprising sight and I can't help but wonder at the chances of the poor thing finding any food this evening! I'm pretty sure it will be heading back to it's roost site pretty quickly once the temperature starts to drop again over the next couple of hours.
Tomorrow, Lynda and I are off to Martin Mere WWT Reserve with the Derby RSPB Group. My plan for the day is, once again, to slow things down with my birding. In fact, I'm hoping the day will be spent "bird watching" rather than "birding" - yes, there IS a difference! Martin Mere is a reserve that I have always looked forward to visiting and tomorrow is no exception, I just hope the weather is kind to us!
The trip to the north west also gives me the opportunity to meet up with a fellow blogger too. Nic, of Birdnerdblog fame, lives not too far from Martin Mere so we have arranged to meet up tomorrow - I'm hoping that a little local knowledge will help increase my bird count for the day! So, no pressure then Nic!
09 February 2009
Having received a number of text messages and a phone call to alert me to its presence I made the short drive to Hilton to tick off the Brent that had been located with a small flock of Greylag geese. Luckily the goose was showing well when I arrived and I had another new species for the year on my “10-Mile List”. This was also the first Brent that I’ve recorded in the county, not that I chase county ticks as such - you can keep too many lists you know.
Whilst in the area I also stopped off at the nearby fishing lakes where a Great White Egret had been seen, on and off, over the previous two days. I can now say that I have officially “dipped out” on the big white one - it didn’t show whilst I was there, and hasn’t been reported since. Not only would this have been a new species for the “10-Mile List” it would also have been another new county record for me. I am slowly starting to get over the disappointment of this one and am now off suicide watch. Seeing a single Common Buzzard, a group of around 30 Golden Plover and a mixed flock of Fieldfare and Redwing did go some little way to making the freezing conditions more bearable at the time. I’d rather have seen the egret though! I’m now looking forward to the coming weekend and the chance to return to real bird-watching again, but more on that later in the week.
My “10-Mile List” now stands at 84 species.
06 February 2009
Once again, it was a rear wheel puncture and it was on an unlit section of path. The end result was another walk home - this time just under a mile and a half. I do carry a puncture kit, tools and a spare inner tube with me on my daily commute but by the time I’ve messed around fixing a puncture by the roadside, in the dark, it’s just as easy to walk.
The bike is now fixed and ready for tomorrow morning's ride. I’ve fitted a brand new inner tube and I’ll get around to repairing the old one at some point over the weekend. At least I’ll be able to do that in the warmth and light of the house and not in the freezing cold using my bike light! Oh, how I love cycling...
05 February 2009
The snow continued during the day and come 5:30PM I really wasn’t too sure about risking the ride home. In the end I decided to give it a go and chose the less frequently used paths so that the risk of having to ride on compressed snow and ice was reduced. This worked out to be a good choice and I managed the journey of just over 3 miles in 22 minutes. The only problem was that the bike looked like it had been in a freezer for the past 12 months by the time I arrived home! There was ice everywhere!
Monday had been a challenge; Tuesday was a nightmare. The snow had stopped overnight but the temperature had dropped even further - I now had to contend with hard packed snow that had deep icy ruts in it or even worse, paths that had been cleared of snow but had now become nothing more than skating rinks! Leaving the bike at home would have been the clever choice but I’ve never really claimed to be that clever so I rode to work anyway.
Within the first half a mile of leaving home it became clear that riding on anything other than the roads would be impossible - too many icy ruts trying to pitch me over the side of the handle bars! - and even worse I had an unexpected mechanical failure on my normally reliable bike. Of the 21 gears I have on the bike just one was working. That one gear would have been great for riding up the side of a house but was just about useless for road riding - my legs were spinning like a hamster on it’s wheel but I was going nowhere! It was the slowest, and most embarrassing, bike ride I’ve ever done! Having to ride along main roads and a bus route only added to the shame of it all!
Having eventually arrived at work it didn’t take me long to work out just why the gears on the bike had failed so completely - all the change cables were frozen solid, as was the rear change mechanism. The deep snow of the previous evening had obviously gotten into even more places than I had thought. I had tried to dry everything down on Tuesday night but it wasn’t enough to beat the freeze. My lunch break at work was spent quickly stripping, cleaning, oiling and rebuilding all the affected parts. The ride home in the evening saw everything back in working order and it was only the icy paths I had trouble with.
Yesterday’s two rides were a lot easier on the bike and myself as the snow and ice were starting to disappear again. In the morning I stayed on the main roads to work and rode at speeds close to my normal pace. In the evening I managed to do my full cycle path route for the first time this week, again at close to my normal commuting speed. At last things were looking up again.
Opening the curtains this morning almost had me heading straight back to bed. The snow was thicker than ever! Not only were all the paths covered but now it was also the side roads and the main roads too - this was too much snow for even me to face riding in. It also proved to be too much for Lynda to risk driving in as well. Lynda left the car in the garage and caught a bus for most of her journey to work. Me being me, I decided I’d walk! Well, it’s only around 2½ miles if I take the shortest route so why not? The snow was still falling quite heavily as I set off but good walking boots and waterproofs meant that I was warm and dry. Thirty-five minutes later and I arrived at work.
Also available in white...
Now, I’m going to have a little moan... I watched a TV interview at lunchtime that featured a woman complaining about the lack of work that had been carried out to keep the roads free of snow and ice overnight. Her grievance was that she had had to spend over an hour driving her children to school this morning because of the road conditions, a journey that would normally take her around 5 minutes or so. Well, here’s a thing to consider Mrs! "TRY WALKING YOUR KIDS TO SCHOOL! If the journey is so short on a normal day it can’t be that far. Leave the car at home, get some exercise for you and your kids and stop adding to the congestion on the roads when you don’t need to!" Ah, I feel better for that!
This evening the snow had stopped falling and was, in places, starting to thaw a little. This slight up-turn in the weather was enough for Lynda to decide that the she would give up the warmth of a bus ride home in favour of walking back with me. For a night time walk, through a built up area, it was rather enjoyable. We saw a fox, heard Robins singing and even passed one or two snowmen that the kids had built.
Quite what mode of transport we will choose, or have forced upon us, tomorrow remains to be seen - the forecast does not look too good!
03 February 2009
Just like the day before, the wind was blowing and it was cold, very cold. With the wind chill I guess it must have been around -5°c or -6°c. Undeterred, we set off down the lane towards the viewing platforms. It was never going to be a day for seeing large numbers of birds, due to the cold and the wind, but I did record a reasonable 16 species in the trees and hedges that line the lane. The most productive area was around the first platform and the small feeding table close by. Here, Goldcrest, Willow Tit (a new bird for my “10-Mile List”), Great Tit and Blue Tit, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch and Goldfinch entertained us for a while before we continued to the end of the lane and platform 3.
Out on the water the amount of birds and the number of species to be seen had clearly been affected by the weather - just 16 species and, if I’d wanted to, few enough birds to do a full count. Notable sightings out on Gull Pit included Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Goldeneye and Goosander. Around 100 Lapwing were roosting on the small spit in the middle of Gull Pit and a further 200 or so were seen in flight. A Water Rail was skulking around in the reed bed close by, but once again it was a case of “heard only”. Realising that I’d just spent time counting the 22 Cormorant on the Gull Pit spit I decided that I must have been starting to get a little bored! Time to move on!
The walk around to Canal Scrape - just under 1½ miles - provided nothing new in the way of birds apart from a single Kestrel but it certainly helped to get the circulation going again; I even started to get a little feeling back in my fingers! The Canal Scrape or lake as it is at the moment, held pretty much the same species as Gull Pit - Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Goldeneye and Goosander with the added bonus of 4 Pintail. Species number 83 for my “10-Mile List” was located when a Green Sandpiper took flight from a flooded field by the canal - not the best of views but a tick none the less.
A Common Buzzard perched on the edge of the reed beds, as we walked back to the lane, was the final bird we added to the morning’s list and gave us a total of 39 species. The number of birds seen was okay, I added two new species to my zone list, the morning was spent in the company of a good friend and maybe more importantly, the day started off with a full English breakfast. There will be more days like this in the coming months. Of that I am certain!