31 March 2009

The joys of spring...

I’d planned on having two days of birding over the weekend... make the most of being off work, get out and about early both days, track down one or two species that have so far given me the slip (I still need that Jay!) and also catch up with any fresh migrants that had appeared. That was the plan; the reality was no birding at all on Saturday and just a little over 5 hours on Sunday.

Saturday’s plans were, quite literally, blown away by the weather - I just couldn’t face yet another day of being buffeted around by the wind having cycled to and from work in it all week. Then, if the wind wasn’t bad enough, we were subjected to heavy rain, sleet and even hail showers during the afternoon. I was more than happy to stay home in the warm! Sunday, as forecast, was a much better day; the clouds had blown away overnight, the wind had disappeared and the sun was out all day. I was up and about before the sun was up properly even though we’d lost an hour in bed due to the change to British Summer Time.

The sun comes up...

I arrived at Barrow-on-Trent just as the sun came up and spent a very pleasant couple of hours just ambling around the lanes, fields and lake there. Bird wise there wasn’t too much to get over excited about but it turned into one of those mornings where the only things that really mattered were being close to nature, being able to relax and to forget about everything else going on in the world. As the sun climbed higher in the sky so the bird song increased... Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird and Song Thrush all competed for my attention. In the distance a Great Spotted Woodpecker hammered out an accompanying beat on a dead tree and a Chiffchaff joined in with it’s own repetitive, but charming, chorus line. Even the Wood Pigeons and Collard Doves had something to add to the tune.

Common Buzzard.

A single Common Buzzard, sat high up on a leafless tree, made for an impressive sight as the early morning light threw the whole scene into silhouette - not a good way to pick out plumage detail but a great way to spend a little time on a Sunday morning! Further into the walk I was treated to close views of Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant, a stunning male Yellowhammer, Goldfinch and also Linnet. The more notable species on or around the lake included Great Crested Grebe, Shelduck, Gadwall, Oystercatcher and Common Sandpiper. As I started to head back to the car a number of Skylark rose up high in the sky and commenced their song flight. They obviously get out of bed a lot later than many species, or birders for that matter! By the time I returned to the car I’d recorded 41 species and, more importantly, lowered my blood pressure by around 95%.

The lake at Barrow.

From Barrow it was just a short drive down the road to Willington where I spent a further 3½ hours. The species count here was a little higher - 52 in total - but again there wasn’t too much to shout about. Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard, and Goosander were amongst the pick of the bunch on the water whilst a Kingfisher was a welcome sight over it. The only raptors seen were Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, but seeing 3 Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk soaring together made up for the lack of species.

Waders were rather thin on the ground with Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe being the only species to report but hopefully this will improve over the next few weeks. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a return visit by last year’s Avocet. I wouldn’t mind the odd Godwit or even a Little Stint too! The lane and the small area of woodland by the canal held Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, 2 Song Thrush, at least 4 Chiffchaff, Long-tailed Tit, Willow Tit and Goldfinch. A small flock of Linnet were feeding close to Canal Scrape and a female Bullfinch showed briefly near the second viewing platform in the lane.

By the time I returned home I hadn’t added any new species to the “10-Mile List”, I hadn’t found that elusive Jay and I hadn’t stumbled across any newly arrived migrants. None of that mattered though because the morning was just about perfect as it was!

23 March 2009

I had a break from birding over the weekend and instead concentrated on the cycling. After work on Saturday morning I set about cleaning the bike and making sure everything was ready for a ride on Sunday. A couple of hours spent on the bike had it all cleaned, adjusted and lubricated. The old girl still scrubs up pretty well even after all these years.

Sunday was a dry, bright and, at times, reasonably sunny day but there was a bit of a breeze blowing. Not bad cycling weather but I would have liked it just a little less windy. The route for my ride was chosen as a way of (forgive the phrase) killing two birds with one stone - I got to do a ride of almost 25 miles and also went to visit my mum for Mother’s Day!

I set off from home at just after 9:00AM, took the direct cycle path route to Pride Park and then in to the river gardens in Derby. Here, I stopped for a short time to remove my winter gloves and change to short fingered summer gloves - it was a lot warmer than I thought once I got going.

The view as I changed gloves!

From the river gardens I continued on up the riverside path to Darley Fields before taking to the road and heading for Little Eaton. Much of the ride from the edge of Derby to the village of Little Eaton is on a cycle path so the traffic here isn’t too much of an issue and I was able to make reasonably good progress. Passing the Little Chef at the bottom of Abbey Hill and smelling bacon cooking did have me thinking of taking a break though!

Once in Little Eaton I had to take to the roads as the cycle track comes to an end. There are rumours of the disused coal train line being turned into a cycle trail here but that will be a while yet, if it happens at all. Taking the back road from Little Eaton to Coxbench will have added a little to the distance I rode but the road is much quieter and safer. I was able to enjoy the views, and bird song, without traffic racing past all the time.

The last part of the ride, from Coxbench up into Horsley Woodhouse, was the only section of the ride that tested me in any way - the road constantly climbs for around 1½ miles with a particularly steep section leading out of Horsley village. As a kid I remember regularly pushing my bike up this hill, yesterday I rode up it reasonably easily. Either bikes have improved or I’m a lot fitter now! The ride of just over 12 miles took me 50 minutes - not my best average speed for a ride but I did have to contend with a head wind for much of it.

After spending time with my mum, and re-fuelling with a Mars bar and a bottle of Lucozade, it was time to head back home again. I did an exact reverse of my route and with the aid of a tail wind and also the advantage of riding down hill through Horsley and Coxbench I managed to knock a full 6 minutes off my outbound time. I made it home in 44 minutes, averaging almost 17 miles an hour, a much more respectable speed.

Since the start of the year I’ve now covered 594 miles on the bike - less than 2000 miles till I reach my target for the year!

Even though I haven’t lifted my binoculars this past weekend I have managed to add one more species to my “10-Mile List” and also enjoyed a few other good sightings. On Saturday morning, whilst cycling to work, I came across 6 Sand Martins over the river Derwent near to Pride Park. These were the first I’d seen this year and become species number 107 on the “10-Mile List”.

Other birds of note included 4 Goosander, 4 Song Thrush and numerous Chiffchaff along the river path and also some superb views of 4 Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk soaring directly overhead as I cycled through Little Eaton. Maybe they thought I was about to become their next meal?!

16 March 2009

A super Sunday...

Saturday, in Thetford, had been a good day out but yesterday was a much better morning! And I was birding within my 10-mile zone again too. I set the alarm for 6:45AM but didn’t need it - I was out of bed and having breakfast by 6:30AM.

Unfortunately, in blog terms, we have now reached the time of year when some of my birding details become a little vague. I’d hate for anything I post here to endanger the breeding success of the birds I come across so I’ll be a little less specific at times.

So, back to Sunday morning. I set off with the intention of finding my 2009 bogey bird, a Jay. It goes without saying that once again I failed. By the time I returned home at the end of the morning I had managed to locate 8 new species for the “10-Mile List” so the missed Jay was soon forgotten, for now! The glorious weather helped lift my spirits even more - it really was an altogether pleasant day.

In four hours of birding I recorded a total of 56 species. For the “10-Mile List” Ringed Plover, Linnet and Chiffchaff were all located within minutes of each other and a Swallow gave brief views as it flew through. Other birds of note included half a dozen Wigeon, 14 Gadwall, 2 Oystercatcher, both Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, numerous Skylark in full song, a mixed flock of Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits and a male Yellowhammer that looked absolutely stunning in the early morning sunshine. A pair of Bullfinch were busy ripping the leaf buds off a hawthorn bush and a male Reed Bunting drove me mad with its non-stop calling. Is it just me or does anyone else find the call of Reed Bunting rather tedious?

Ringed Plover.

With the zone list now at 102 for the year it was time to move on to my second location of the day. Here, I came across two more Chiffchaff almost as soon as I got out of the car and moments later came close to being hit by a pair of Kingfishers that were chasing each other around for the next hour or so. Red-legged Partridge was the next new bird of the year when a pair took off almost from under my feet as I crept along a hedgerow to get better views of a large goose flock. Luckily, the partridges didn’t spook the geese too much and I was able to get a count of 92 Greylag Geese, 35 Canada Geese and a single Pink-footed Goose. There’s no way of being certain but I’d imagine the Pink-footed is the same one I saw at Staunton Harold Reservoir back on January 4.

Pink-footed Goose.

Ducks seen included 88 Wigeon, 6 Teal, a female Pochard, 23 Tufted Duck and 3 Goldeneye. Two Buzzards gave a superb display as they soared together overhead and a male Kestrel made a number of unsuccessful hunting attempts before giving up and perching on a fence post. Four Oystercatcher spent all of the time I was on site falling out with each other, very loudly, and a small number of Lapwing were displaying.

A Little Ringed Plover made it onto the “10-Mile List” as species number 104 and was quickly followed by a Common Sandpiper and a White Wagtail. Just like last year, White Wagtail is still not a BOU British species but, like last year, this is MY game with MY rules! I list it! To finish off the morning I walked back to the car via a more wooded area and picked up Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit and Blue Tit and another superb male Yellowhammer. Whilst putting all my gear back in the car I was visited by a couple of Chaffinch and a House Sparrow that were obviously after an easy meal - they were out of luck as I’d already eaten my two cereal bars!

The “10-Mile List” has now reached 106 species for the year.

15 March 2009

Thetford Forest...

The trip to Thetford Forest yesterday produced the goods once again - some great birds and also some reasonably good weather too. The day also started off a lot more relaxed than last month’s RSPB trip; we remembered to set the alarm on Saturday night and didn’t have to rush to catch the coach! The rain that had been forecast for much of the morning started to fall just as we left the house, but had stopped by the time we reached Derby. From then on it was a dry and bright day. Once again, whilst waiting for the coach, we had good views of the Derby Cathedral Peregrines.

Derby Cathedral.

Santon Downham was our first stop of the day and provided us with a total of 33 species, which, spookily enough, is exactly the same as last year’s trip! Woodlark is always the main target bird for us at this location and, after a bit of searching, we struck it lucky once again. At least two larks were seen and in the end they gave great views to everyone on the trip. Whilst watching the Woodlark, and making sure everyone else got to see them, I also picked up Buzzard, Green Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush, Yellowhammer, numerous Siskin and a Jay. March 14 and this is the first Jay I’ve seen all year! Where are they all?

A little further along the path from the Woodlark Lynda and I caught up with a small group of our party that said they had found something of interest - it turned out to be an Adder! They said it was a way of thanking me for finding the Woodlark. Little did they know, if there’s one thing I HATE its snakes! I did manage to build up enough nerve to get a quick photo but came out in a cold sweat in the process! I was not a happy bunny at this point and moved swiftly on!

Want a better photo? Take your own!

The walk back to the coach, along the river path, was a little quieter than usual but we did manage to see a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a pair of Grey Wagtail, a small flock of Redwing and a Goldcrest. A Water Rail provided many of us with outstanding views as it fed on the riverbank. The bird spent long periods of time out in the open and was not in the least worried about people passing by on the path, most unusual for this species.

Our second site of the day was Lynford Arboretum, just a short drive away. The arboretum, and nearby lakes, were rather quiet compared with previous visits with just 32 species being seen by Lynda and I. We have no complaints about the quality of birding here though as we got to see Hawfinch, a site speciality, and also a group of 12 Crossbill. The Crossbill gave themselves away by calling loudly as they approached us through the woods and then settled in the top of a tree right in front of us. We got great views of the birds but unfortunately only one other member of our group was close by at the time, the other 45 or so missed out! Maybe in future they’ll not be so keen to show me snakes in return for Woodlarks!

Other birds here included Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great Spotted and also Green Woodpecker, Song and Mistle Thrush, Treecreeper and Siskin. Two albino Pheasants were also seen. As we walked back to the coach at the end of the afternoon we came across a rather nice carving that had been created on a broken tree trunk - I don’t think I’d fancy meeting this guy in the dark!

10 March 2009

Coming soon...

Longstanding readers of this blog will be familiar with the logo below. Those of you that have only very recently had the misfortune to stumble across my random chatter will be seeing a lot more of it over the coming weeks...

08 March 2009

Not the best week...

After a rather long run of birding blogs it’s time to catch up a little on the cycling - and one bit of birding too!

So far this year I’ve covered just over 440 miles on the bike on my daily commute to and from work. Apart from the run of snowy weather a couple of weeks ago I’ve also managed to stay dry for most of the 90 rides I’ve completed - that all changed on Tuesday! On the ride home from work I got well and truly soaked! Not only did it pour down with rain but it was very, very windy and at times there was also a fair amount of sleet in with the rain. I got wet, the sleet stung my face and, to cap it all off, I could hardly make any forward progress due to the headwind! Not the most enjoyable of rides.

Wednesday morning’s ride in to work was equally enjoyable - I suffered yet another rear wheel puncture. And, to add insult to injury, it was on the same section of cycle path that all my other recent deflations have occurred. This left me with the option of either stripping the rear wheel and tyre out of the bike and repairing the flat at the side of the road or walking the last 1½ miles to work. I chose the latter and now wish I hadn’t. Walking at a much higher pace than I would normally, in shoes I use purely for cycling, left me with a badly blistered right foot! Next time I’ll go for the roadside repair!

Having had time to reflect on the latest puncture whilst repairing it at work and also riding back home at night I decided it was time to take action... I’ve written to the local council about the amount of glass and general road debris that is on the cycle path and have asked if “urgent consideration can be given to “road sweeping” the cycle path”. I await a reply.

Straight after work yesterday afternoon Lynda and I went out for a short walk along the river Derwent at Ambaston. Not only did this add another 2½ miles to Lynda’s walking mileage - I cycle as much as I can; Lynda walks as often as she can - but it also added another bird species to my “10-Mile List”, a Whooper Swan. The Whooper has been in the area for a while now and I thought it was high time I went and tracked it down. In the end it was easy enough to locate the bird but walking for 2½ miles with a badly blistered foot was somewhat painful. As a result of the bad foot, and the rather dodgy weather forecast for today, that has been the only birding I’ve done this weekend. Next weekend we’re off to Thetford Forest with our RSPB Group so it’s fingers crossed for good weather and good birds again.

My “10-Mile List” now stands at 98 species.

01 March 2009

In and out of "the zone"...

After a somewhat difficult week at work I was more than ready for my two days off this weekend. I ought to have treated myself to a few hours extra in bed, to try and catch up on lost sleep, but sacrifices had to be made if I was to get my target birds this weekend! On Saturday I was out of bed at 6:00am; this morning it was 6:45am - no rest for the wicked as they say.

Saturday’s first birding site was Allestree Park and I was in search of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Last year I had been lucky enough to locate two birds at Allestree so I was reasonably hopeful of success again this year, especially as other local birders have reported seeing them over the past week or so. It took me almost two hours but in the end I did manage to track down a male Lesser ‘pecker and it showed well for around 5 minutes, drumming away at a dead branch all the while. I tried for photos of this tiny little woodpecker but failed miserably! I blame the wind for moving the branch, and also my ‘scope, around too much. The cloudy conditions didn’t help either, as there was very little light getting through to the camera lens - enough excuses yet? Last year's photo wasn’t great, but it was better!

A very blurred Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!

Allestree entertained me for almost four hours in the end and I managed to locate a total of 35 species. I wouldn’t normally spend so long here but I was hoping to find a Jay in the woodland, a bird I also need for my “10-Mile List”. Once again, I failed to see one. For a couple of weeks now I’ve been thinking that there is a distinct lack of Jay in the Derby/Trent Valley area and, having spoken to one or two other birders, this is looking to be true. Next weekend I plan on trying a site that should almost guarantee me a sighting - we’ll see.

Of the species seen at Allestree the more notable included Great Crested Grebe (a pair displaying to each other), 10 Mandarin Duck, Sparrowhawk, 8 Stock Dove, 4 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Song Thrush, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and a flock of 20 Siskin. The Mandarin showed well for a change and the Siskin gave views down to less than 15 feet at times. A Green Woodpecker was calling for much of the morning but never showed itself. Seeing it’s little cousin more than made up for that though.

Mandarin Duck.

Having taken a few hours break back at home for lunch, and a quick sleep in front of the TV, I headed back out again for the last 2½ hours of daylight at Foremark Reservoir. Yes, I know, on Monday I said that I’d not be returning there any time soon but the thought of adding that Iceland Gull to my “10-Mile List” was just too much of a draw for me and I had to give it another go. I was the first birder to arrive at the reservoir so at least I had the pick of the benches - not that any of them are comfortable or warm - and I started to scan the gulls that had already started to settle on the water.

I’m pretty sure that there was a Caspian Gull in with the Herring Gulls but, almost as soon as I got the bird in my ’scope and in focus, it took flight and I never relocated it. As the afternoon drew on more birders arrived and more eyes meant more birds located in the 1000’s of gulls that were now in the roost - I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was enjoyable but at least there was lots of birds to look at!

At 4:35pm the “excitement” started... someone had spotted an Iceland Gull flying over the reservoir! As the bird was called out I actually felt my heart rate increase slightly; was I getting excited about a gull? Surely not? The Iceland Gull settled on the water some distance from us but due to it’s size and colouring it still stuck out like a sore thumb amongst all the other birds. A short while later and we were treated to a second Iceland Gull - it too was some distance from us but showed better as it landed on a sandbank.

By now the light was starting to fade and I was getting ready to pack up and head for home. Luckily, I held on until just after 5:30pm and was able to add one more new bird to my count, a Red-necked Grebe. The grebe has been on the reservoir since early February but has proved tricky to locate at times, so I’d never bothered. On Saturday evening it appeared out of nowhere right in front of us! Although not yet in full summer plumage the grebe was still a very smart looking bird, much better than any gull in my opinion. Not counting the possible Caspian Gull, I recorded a total of 19 species at Foremark.

Today, I have been birding outside of my 10-mile zone. I had planned on going to Willington but was talked out of it by my birding friends Mike and Chris. We went off twitching some of the local Derbyshire goodies. It was an enjoyable morning and, thankfully, I’ve not heard of anything special turning up at Willington in my absence!

We met up at 8:00am at Cromford, near Matlock, with the aim of seeing Hawfinch. I’m pleased to say we achieved our goal. In recent days and weeks up to 15 Hawfinch have been reported at this location but this morning I had to make do with just three birds. If just one of those birds could relocate itself to somewhere closer to home I’d be more than happy!

Cromford also provided good views of Little Grebe, Grey Wagtail, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch and Goldfinch. The highlight for me of the 20 species seen here wasn’t the Hawfinch but a pair of Dipper. Okay, Dipper isn’t a particularly scarce bird when compared to Hawfinch but not only did they show very well they were both heard singing on a number of occasions too. A great start to the day.

The river at Cromford.

From Cromford we moved on to Carsington Water. Here I noted a total of 34 species in what proved to be a rather quiet 2½ hours. The reservoir held all the usual suspects such as Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye. A female Scaup was seen from Paul Stanley hide and a single Great Northern Diver was seen from Lane End hide. The walk to the bay overlooking the wildlife centre gave sightings of Nuthatch, Bullfinch, and Tree Sparrow.

A total of 46 Barnacle Geese were grazing in one of the fields by the reservoir and 7 Ruddy Duck were doing their best to blend into the background - just in case someone decided they needed culling! Don’t get me started on that one! A single Buzzard was soaring over a distant hillside and a Curlew was heard calling but was never seen.

At 12:30pm I left Mike and Chris to continue the day on their own as I needed to be back home in time for lunch. The birding had been okay but Lynda’s homemade lasagne was always going to take priority, even if I’d been birding within my 10-mile zone! A text message from Chris late this afternoon revealed that I’d missed out on a further 2 Great Northern Divers, a Common Scoter, Curlew, Little Owl, 3 Stonechat and a male Hen Harrier. All good stuff but they missed lasagne!!!

With the addition of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Iceland Gull and Red-necked Grebe my “10-Mile List” now stands at 97 species.