31 January 2010

Insomnia has its benefits...

I’m not sure whether I’d had too much fresh air on Saturday morning or whether a couple of beers and a bowl full of Pringles were to blame, but I did not sleep well at all last night. I managed to see every single hour on the alarm clock during the night and by 6:00am I gave up on the idea of sleep and got up, had breakfast and headed off out birding. Overnight there had been another heavy frost and it soon became clear that the council hadn’t gritted any of the roads, it was very icy even on the main roads and dual carriageways.

At just before 7:00am I arrived at Shipley Park and the moment I switched the car off I was aware of a Tawny Owl calling not too far away, a new species for my year list. As I opened the car door a second Tawny called back to the first one, this then set the first bird off again! This carried on for a couple of minutes whilst I was pulling on my coat and walking boots and then, all of a sudden, one of the calls became a lot louder - one of the Tawny Owls had landed in a tree less than 30 feet away! As this point I’d like to thank Leica for making such amazing optics - my 8x42 binoculars were pulling in more than enough light for me to get great views of the owl!

Sunrise over Shipley.

As the sky was now starting to show a little more light I headed off in search of my target species, a Short-eared Owl. The SEO had been reported at daybreak most mornings for almost a week so I was reasonably confident that I’d be able to locate it. The owl had other ideas and didn’t show at all. I did manage to get good views of two more Tawny Owls though, so the morning wasn’t without its highlights. Once it became clear that the Short-eared wasn’t going to show I briefly checked the lake and scrub area around the old American Adventure theme park. In total I managed to record a total of 24 species before heading back to the car.

Although I didn’t make any counts, birds of note included Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Green Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail, Bullfinch and, of course, the 3 Tawny Owls. I was starting to feel the cold, I was tired, but I was also very happy! At 8:45am I was back in the car enjoying the warmth from the heater as I headed back towards home.

As I left Shipley the plan was to drive straight back home and spend the rest of the day inside, perhaps trying to catch up on some sleep. Just a couple of miles from home and I changed my plans. I decided to try, once again, for Whooper Swan at Ambaston. I spent a further hour checking the River Derwent here and still didn’t locate the swans. I’m slowly starting to think that they may well have left the area. Birds I did see included 9 Mute Swan, 4 Goldeneye, 2 Goosander, a male Sparrowhawk, a Buzzard, 1 Snipe, 12 Fieldfare and a Jay.

With the time now 10:00am I was really starting to feel the pull of a warm house and a large mug of coffee, but chose to delay both just a little longer and checked Ambaston Gravel Pit. This proved to be good decision as the very first bird I put my ‘bins on turned out to be a stunning male Red-crested Pochard, another new bird for my “10-Mile List”. I did manage a couple of record shots of the bird but they, unfortunately, didn’t turn out too good. Either I was too cold and shaking the camera or the duck was equally as cold and shaking as much as I was. The result was a number of slightly blurred photos!

Red-crested Pochard.

Sharing the water with the pochard were a Little Grebe, a Great Crested Grebe, 2 Mute Swan, a pair of Wigeon, 2 pairs of Gadwall, 22 Tufted Duck and 60 Coot. A female pheasant was skulking about at the edge of the reed bed, a couple of Black-headed Gulls and 5 Stock Dove flew over. Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, 12 Fieldfare, a Blue Tit and a couple of Magpie were also noted. At 10:45am I set off for home and that mug of coffee, complete with a tot of whisky!

Tawny Owl and Red-crested Pochard move the “10-Mile List” on to 77 species.


  1. Good to see you yesterday at Shipley Park. I see you follow my blog - small world.

    I've replied to your post on Birdforum with some more info on the 'slocation if you're thinking of trying again.


  2. Hi, Chris.

    Good meeting you too - sorry I didn't work out that it was you though! As you may guess from this blog post, I was far from being at my best yesterday! :-)

    I'll check the forum for the info.