Jo’s Top 10 Target Birds (in no particular order):

So, 3-0 down to a total newbie- its time for me to take this competitive birdwatching seriously!

Whilst Chris has hinted at our top 10s, I feel I need to explain this further. On New Years Day, we both sat down and chose 10 birds we would each aim to see this year. This post has been a long time coming, saved as a draft post on Jan 3rd, I’ve never quite got around to finishing it and making it public. I think that makes the challenge feel final, something I’m not sure that I’m ready for.

Losing miserably on the top 10 front so far, these are 10 birds I’ve managed not to see at all one month into the big year. Whilst I’m probably ahead of Chris on total species seen, its the top 10 I really care about, ten birds that I would absolutely love to see. Its time for me to gain some birding ground.

My top 10 target birds are…

Dartford Warbler these scruffy little beauts are a New Forest specialty that I’ve managed to never see in my birding life. Favouring gorse and heather areas, I’m hoping that being local I can spot one at some point this year. Come warbler breeding season, if you can’t find me I’m probably out on a heath somewhere trying to catch a glimpse of one of these birds. Must brush up on bird song so I know what to listen for!

Dartford Warbler

Crossbill another must see. Whilst the variety I’ve chosen is the Common Crossbill, its easy to see how their cousins came to be called the Parrot Crossbill. The exotic looking male is a bright pinky red, and the female a murky parakeet green, and what makes them even more striking is their bills, which are quite literally crossed. Another New Forest species, fingers crossed I manage to track one down this year.

Common Crossbill

Hawfinch an amazing bird, with an incredibly powerful beak that can crack a cherry stone. Looking at these birds they appear such a hodge podge of colours and features with a huge, squat bill they almost look like an imaginary species. Several reported not far from home, so surely I can see one of these some time soon?


Merlin falcons have to be my absolute favourite bird family, and what’s not to love? Streamlined, agile, speedy and full of personality, any falcon sighting brightens my day. Merlin is a species that I’ve never seen and these diminuitive birds live up to their family reputation. This is the species I’ve come closest to seeing so far, with 2 probable sightings I’m unable to count as I’ve not been 100% sure. Predominantly a winter visitor, I’d better get a move on if I want to see one before spring arrives and they move on.


Great Grey Shrike another winter visitor and New Forest local, I need to aim to have sight of a Shrike pretty soon to stand a chance of completing my top 10. Shrikes are also known as butcher birds and are known for spiking their catches (lizards, shrews, voles…) along their own stretch of thorn. For anyone who was a childhood fan of Farthing Wood, there was a particularly heart-breaking scene where a shrike catches a mouse (I think?!) and impales it on its branch spikes. Not a nice trait, but it is fascinating and pretty unique.

Great Grey Shrike

Marsh Harrier this is the bird on my list that I know the least about. They’ve often been reported when I’ve visited nature reserves but I’ve never managed to actually see one, which is why they appear on my list. Hopefully this year my luck will change.

Marsh Harrier

Ruff this one could be tricky. Apart from gulls, waders are the group of birds I find most difficult to ID. And if I don’t know what the bird I am looking at is, there’s no chance of me being able to count it on my year list. Ruffs are as cool as waders come- the males have a genuine neck ruff of feathers reminiscent of the collars worn back in the day by elizabethan nobility. Whilst these beautiful feathers are striking, they are only displayed by the males in breeding season when they hope to catch the eye of a single lady. Its highly unlikely I’ll see them in this guise, more likely I’ll come across one looking pretty indistinct, but its a bird I would love to see none the less.

Ruff (in display!)
Ruff (as normal)

Bearded Tit also known as Bearded Reedling, the male looks like men from oriental art with long, drooping black moustaches. Resident in reedbeds, these are only ever seen fleetingly and are notoriously difficult to spot amongst the reeds. This will be another case of learning the call so that I can track the bird down.

Bearded Tit

Little Owl aside from Long Eared, this is the other species of British owl that I have never seen. I’ve heard them call from my bedroom at night, so they can’t be far away but tracking them down could prove difficult. Owls are tricky at the best of times, so these miniature versions will be even more elusive.

Little Owl

Bullfinch these may be up there on my favourite birds of all time list. I have a soft spot for finches and buntings at the best of times, but the bold cherry pink and black of the male bullfinch is a sight to behold, and a bird that seems completely out of place in a soggy country such as ours.


Whilst most of the birds on this list will be new spots for me, what compiling this list has made me realise is just how amazing a lot of British Birds really are and we have some stunning looking species that most people have never even heard of, let alone had sight of. Its all too easy to get excited about Parrots, Hummingbirds, Birds of Paradise or other brightly coloured feathered friends, but when you start to examine what is living close by, its just as exciting. Even the commonest birds are easily overlooked. Most of us will come across a Blue Tit on a fairly regular basis, but do we ever take the time to appreciate just how vivid its yellow and blue markings are? I don’t think we do, but its about time more of us did.

Here’s to February and beyond!


Make Way For The King

Good Evening Readers,

I shall skip straight to Sunday as the rest of the week has been bird free due to a combination of work and also a trip to the Rugby yesterday to see my team get annihilated by Bath.

I am sure that some of you have seen that this weekend was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, this is where the RPSB ask people to take one hour out of their time to sit and record how many different birds appear. Jo and I did it first thing this morning and it wasn’t a huge success compared to the normal visitors to their garden but it was the afternoon that has really made my birding year (I seem to be saying that every week at the moment)

After Jo finished her tax return (tax doesn’t have to be taxing, just boring) we ventured out to Fishlake Meadows, which is basically a very large watery place where birds chill out. It had been a pretty quiet walk (getting used to seeing buzzards now) and we were on the way back to the car when I saw a blue flash with wings fly past me, quickly followed by another one. It took me at least 3 seconds to comprehend what I was looking at as it looked like something that would be more at home in the Amazon.

Jo also managed to pick up these blue flashes and shouted the word that I have never been so excited to hear…KINGFISHER!!

TWO!! I shouted back, as I saw them disappear behind a tree.

I was so shocked and happy to have seen them, they are yet another bird ticked off of my top ten list (to be published this week) and puts me 3-0 up on Team Jo!

I literally stood there amazed for a good ten minutes hoping to get another view of them to no avail. I just wanted to properly be able to see it in all its glory. When I sensed that Jo had had enough of waiting for me to stop smiling and checking two branches we decided to walk back to the car, it was starting to get dark when all of a sudden there was yet ANOTHER blue flash, I managed to track it until it disappeared behind another tree (next time I’m bringing my chainsaw).

So, as I sit here now, yesterday I hadn’t seen a single Kingfisher and now I’ve seen three, that’s two firsts in two weeks, I’m going to be hard pushed to keep this discovery rate up! They are really up there as a spectacle to see, they just look so out of place and so vibrant and actually (as sad as this sounds) I still cannot believe that I have seen some!

Oh, and Jo, please don’t feel bad for being 3-0 down, you have seen more species including the Spanish Sparrow and are clearly going to win, you just might lose the race to 10!

See you soon readers!



P.S Kingfishers are amazing to view and if you ever hear of any in your area I would highly recommend it, give me a shout and I’ll come and chop any trees down first* so your view is not obscured!


*This tree comment is purely in jest and Chris does not support deforestation, so please do not write in with your complaints

To Twitch or not to Twitch

One thing that I have been deliberating in this big year so far, is the idea of twitching. For those who are up to speed on birding terminology, this may seem an odd thing to say- many assume that twitching and birdwatching are one and the same. Not so- twitching is a whole different bird game. Whilst birdwatching mainly involves watching birds in all its forms- in the garden, on a reserve, on a walk or by chance, twitching is far more specific. On a twitch, people will travel the length of the country to add another ‘tick’ to their year, UK or life lists*.


Twitching attracts a different type of birdwatcher. If you’re travelling far and wide looking for something rare, it seems all too often that the person in question is more interested in ticking a new species off a list, than observing birds in the locality in general. Whilst I don’t really twitch myself, the impression I get from other birders is that its a far more manic affair, becoming more frenzied the more unusual the bird. Twitchers don’t give off an overall impression of being great bird lovers. Whilst I love just watching birds in general, however common the species, twitching seems more akin to ‘collecting’ birds by ticking them off a list, than enjoying them for what they are and what they do. I’m sure there are lots of twitchers who do enjoy the birds themselves, but its not always obvious when observing them in action. I find the birding community much more friendly and receptive when not rushing around at high speed.


I think this was summed up best by a conversation I heard between two birdwatchers right at the start of the year. They were discussing twitching and that neither of them had ever felt the need to get involved in this type of birding and one of them came out with this gem- ‘I think its one of those things like drink and drugs- you have to go through that phase at some point to get it out of your system’. I couldn’t put it better myself, that is exactly how it seems.


Whilst becoming a twitcher doesn’t appeal greatly, without ‘ticking off’ some more unusual species this year I’m not likely to beat Chris in our big year. I may have a confession to make on this front, which I’ll save for another day- I need to confess all to Chris first…


Look at this chaos- twitchers flocking to see a white throated Robin in Hartlepool in June 2011:

More recently, a local twitch of a Spanish Sparrow attracted this massive crowd last weekend:

* ‘year list’- list of wild birds seen in the present year in total (what Chris and I are competing on), ‘UK list’- all the wild birds you have ever seen on UK soil (or air), ‘life list’- all the wild birds you have seen anywhere, ever.

Earthflight- Asia and Australia

Although the budgerigars of Australia were by far my favourite part of this week’s Earthflight, as usual the whole programme was amazing. I can’t really put into words the sights of this week, but if you have 5 minutes to spare, these clips are worth a watch:

Pigeons at Mehrangarh being pursued by a Long Legged Buzzard. The way this bird hunts the pigeons from their roosts is brilliant. This has to be the first bird battle I’ve watched that I’ve actually been rooting for the predator to win.

Japanese /Red Crowned Cranes being surrounded by their predators- Red Fox, White Tailed Eagle and Steller’s Eagle (look at the size of that Bill!). These cranes are beautiful and look so serene calmly sparring against the eagles. Whilst I noticed this last weekend with Redpoll, these cranes look like the cardinals of the bird world.

Demoiselle Cranes were shown being hunted by Golden Eagles and a Peregrine Falcon. These birds look like bald men with wispy white hair and considering I always like birds with a bit of character, I particularly enjoyed these cranes. Plus, any species that successfully migrates through the Himalayas deserves a lot of respect.

Demoiselle Cranes

All in all a brilliant programme which I intend to watch again whilst its still online.



So last night’s episode of Earthflight was fantastic as usual.

Whilst I previously had a soft spot for a budgie and thought I’d like my own, I’m now convinced that these are truly fantastic birds. My only obstacles are deciding what I really think about keeping one caged and whether I can eventually talk Chris around to the idea.

Budgies fly past Uluru

I previously blogged about the Europe episode and the aerial acrobatics of the starling flocks over Rome, this was beaten in spectacle last night. Whilst the Europe clip featured starlings being hunted by a lone Peregrine, this time around a Black Falcon returns empty taloned to its mate after being defeated by millions of budgerigars. Imagine the previous clip in full colour. The budgies even managed to stop off mid chase for a quick drink in amongst the chaos. Every time the falcon came close the budgies fell straight downwards escaping its clutches.

Whilst I can’t find the exact clip,  I have managed to find footage of the swarm. The whole episode is available on iPlayer at the moment, so well worth a view whilst it’s still online.


Only one episode to go and then I’ll have to wait until the box set is released.


It’s Earthflight night!

Before I leave to cycle up to Chris’s for this week’s installment of Earthflight- Asia and Australasia, I wanted to post quickly about last weeks episode- South America. This was the most colourful so far and the vibrancy of the different Parrot species was amazing, but by far the most spectacular sight of the programme was watching flocks of scarlet macaws. The vibrancy of their feathers was absolutely incredible- truly beautiful birds. Looking forward to tonight!


Scarlet Macaws
Look at that colour!

I need help



Its not yet 7am on a Wednesday morning, but I am wide awake. This is because of two things:

Firstly I have a had a very bad dream, one of those really real ones that you can’t forget about and secondly (and more worryingly) I have become just a tiny bit angry with one user of ‘Pinterest’ (A website where you “pin” your favourite pictures)

What have they done to annoy me? Well, Dear Reader, they have replied to my picture of a Buzzard sat on the ground with this phrase: “not a buzzard. some kind of bird of prey: a hawk or a falcon.”

There are numerous things that have annoyed me about her reply. She clearly doesn’t know what she is talking about for one. I would have taken the comment from someone who had clearly stated what said bird was, but no, her reply was vague and dismissive, I can only go with the fact that she posted at 4am our time which would indicate that she is American. (Just checked American Buzzards do look different) but also with the fact that it looks NOTHING like a blooming falcon! I will let her off the fact that it could ave been a hawk, however my main overriding annoyance is that it IS A FREAKING COMMON EUROPEAN BUZZARD. (see below)

This is now the second time that I have suffered this anger, and I need to learn how to control this, however I finish this post more annoyed at the fact that an American has just tried to slag off my post without doing their research, I think that I am getting a bit too protective about my birds


Once Bittern always amazed…

Decided that I better post whilst it is fresh in my memory,

This weekend was the best birding weekend I have ever had. ( I realise that this isn’t a massive claim as I have only had 3) As Jo has stated I was up for a nice early 7am wake up before getting to the lakes about 8am. In reality it involved a joint agreement to roll over and go back to sleep.

When we set off at 10ish we stopped off for Breakfast at Ringwood; an epic Bacon Roll with a Poached Egg which got me set and ready for the day ahead. We arrived at the lakes about 10.45 and settled down in the first hide that was occupied by two middle aged men muttering to each other with all the awkwardness of two teenagers on a first date. It was enjoyable to listen to but then I needed to settle down to some serious bird identification!

I must apologise to Jo here, I think that I must have asked her if the same type of bird was a ‘goldeneye’ at least 6 times, until I finally found one, the first bird off my top ten list! 1-0 Team Chris! We moved on to the various hides as the day went on but the main attraction was number two on my list the Bittern.

There was a buzz in the hide as soon as we walked in, people had just seen it, a moment of panic followed for me as firstly I didn’t understand where they had seen it, and secondly and much more troublesome… I had no idea what a Bittern looked like. Think needle in a haystack with other people who knew what they were doing and thats roughly were I was.

Then, we saw a rustling in the bush and a massive neck appeared. Its actually a pretty cool looking bird when its got its neck out. However I do think it looks a bit constipated when it is walking along, but that is probably just me!

What Jo neglected to mention is that it is me who spotted it for the second time. Everyone was looking at the spot where it had previously been, until I decided to look without the binoculars and spotted it stood in the open, the excitement that I shouted “THERE IT IS” still surprises me to this moment, however it sums up the genuine happiness that I got from seeing it again, its something that I never thought that I would experience when I started the year. Anyway, the result was that we all saw the Bittern looking in the reeds and pulling out a massive Perch which it took about 2 minutes to figure out just how to swallow the fish. The pictures that everyone took (except me) were very good, as you can see from Jo’s earlier post, there was even someone there who had birding business cards to hand out for when we wanted photos (i’m not even joking)

Anyway, the result was an excellent day with over 30 different species of birds seen, red polls and bramblings were a close two and three to the Bittern and the score currently stands at 2-0 to Team Chris.

In other news, I have purchased a waterproof notebook that apparently will even work underwater, not sure how true that is but i’ll give it a go. I will also be getting in to digiscoping soon, so some close up pics should follow. I can’t wait for next Sunday now, finally getting some proper enthusiasm, Greg, Jim and Toby watch out, your walks will follow soon!


A joint trip to Blashford

This Saturday, we decided to go all out on the bird front and planned a proper trip to Blashford Lakes, a Hampshire Wildlife Trust reserve with hides, feeders and a visitor centre.  Having only been once before, going to bed early on a Friday night so that we could get an early start on the bird front was our intention. The alarm going off at 7:00 on the next morning wasn’t quite the relaxed start to the weekend we’d hoped for, so we reset the alarm and went back to sleep, eventually leaving the house around 10:00. Throw in a detour via Waitrose and an unexpected breakfast coffee at Boston Tea Party (the best coffee I’ve had in a LONG time), we weren’t exactly heading out in a hurry. Although this didn’t put us in pro-birder territory, it was a perfect start to a birding weekend.

Chris watching Ibsley Water


Through the woods


Whilst there were a lot of highlights, the best part of the day by far was a beautiful Bittern appearing right in front of our hide, and despite nearly choking on its lunch, it put on quite a show.  I know this made the day (if not the year) for Chris, so I’ll leave him to fill you in on the encounter. What I will say, is the whole experience reminded me of just how lovely a community there always is amongst a group of birders. People are always happy to share whats about and point things out to you. Without the company in the hide, we may never have seen the Bittern skulk out right in front of us. These birds are mega camoflaged and really elusive. Unless you see them move you’d never know they were anything more than a bunch of reeds!


Spot the Bittern (sorry its fuzzy but I’d forgotten my SLR- typical!)


Ivy Lake


Chris may now have a favourite bird in the Bittern, but I have a couple of new favourites too. Although they weren’t hanging out in my garden, I did spot a flock of 16+ Redwing eating on the ground (sorry Chris!), and we were both fairly mesmerised by a tiny group of Lesser Redpoll. The male Redpoll looks flushed across his throat and chest as though he’s very easily embarrassed and both males and females have a lovely little red cap, a bit like the a ones worn by cardinals. Hopefully I’ll post more on these beauties later in the week. They’re inspiring me to sketch so watch this space!


Back home for a warm (bird) mug of tea


All in all a brilliant day out and about. This big year is making me really enjoy spending as much time as I can outside. If all the weekends of 2012 are as good as this one I’ll be very content.