Off out for Owls

After a successful trip to WWT Slimbridge yesterday, today Chris and I are off to the Hawk Conservancy near Andover for the day. Chris is off on last year’s birthday present of a day’s Owl Experience and I will be off round the grounds with my camera and trying to spot a wild bird or two along the way.

Last January, I spent a fantastic day at the Hawk Conservancy on a Photography Day, so I’ll be hoping to get some more shots today. Last time around, this Peregrine was my favourite bird of the day:

 

 

Full update on yesterday’s trip (and today’s antics) to follow later tonight.

Jo

Finally..

Hello Dear Readers,

 

After what seems like a month since I last did a proper post (oops, it actually is!) I suppose that I best start with the number of birds that I managed to see in January as a few of you are now demanding to know. In total, between January 1st and January 31st I saw 76 unique species of bird. I won’t get too birdy on you all (mainly as I will get something wrong and be corrected by Jo!) but here are my favourite birds of January and a little bit of a reason why.

  1. Bittern – This is the top of my list purely because some people can go years without seeing one, and the first time I go into a hide at Blashford Lakes there is one staring up at me, not only that, but when everyone thought that it had disappeared I looked to my right and it was sat out in the open trying to swallow an entire fish. One man commented to me that I may as well go and “retire from birding” as views won’t come better than that. (I sometimes feel like he was right and maybe I have peaked too early in my birding career
  2. Kingfisher – This would have been an epic spot on any day, but the fact that it came at the end of a disappointing walk around Fishlake Meadows made it even better. I know that Jo was amazed by my reaction to seeing them (two in one, just like a bus) but it really was like seeing a bird from a different country. You can’t describe just how bright the colours are, I managed to see three that day in total, and one more since, and they are still brilliant every time you see one.
  3. Greenshank – For all you birders out there this won’t be a particularly special sighting, indeed for Jo I’m sure that it wasn’t great, but, what makes it special for me was that Jo and I really worked together to identify it using the Collins Book (my copy that Jo subsequently dropped in the mud) it must have taken us about 10 minutes to finally confirm it, but it left me really happy that we were able to use skills that before January I had never used.
  4. Bearded Tits – Not only a funny name (you all know it is!) they also look wicked, also seeing Jo so happy to see a bird that she has been looking for for years made it extra special. We have pictures of them and just how close we were eating our lunch to them made it amazing.

I didn’t think that I would have made it to such a number in one month, especially my first, but its mainly down to Jo helping me and dragging me out. I have a feeling that the subsequent months won’t be so spectacular, however there are over 10,000 left in the world for me to see so fingers crossed!

I went birding with my friend Greg at the start of February. He has new eyes (lasered) so in order to get his monies worth we thought it a good idea to see what he could see. It was a strange day; I am definitely not an expert, and I never managed to get to the bottom of what Greg thought of it, I probably endlessly annoyed him with my banging on about certain birds (my highlight was a goldcrest) and the hardest part was missing Jo. This may sound soppy, however it is purely because we have a very unique bird sense of humour, we personify them, its hard to explain, imagine Walk On The Wild Side, with just birds, if you are very unlucky some of you may get to experince this some day. However Greg was definitely not on the same wave length! (Sorry Greg)

I think that birding with different people will be something that I will need to get to used to over the course of 2012 (any volunteers living in Hampshire are eagerly encouraged!) but part of me just wants to make it a joint effort, hopefully when work quietens down I will get back into the competition, the new binocular purchases that we both made today should help,  I am just struggling with identifying the differences in certain types (especially waders) however I have finally nailed my tit identification  (stop sniggering at the back) so that is a step forward!

More about todays trip (to WWT Slimbridge) will follow when it isn’t so late.

 

Chris

 

 

 

Back to basics

This weekend was momentous in the history of our Big Year as Chris and I decided to go birding separately at the same time. Whilst I’ve birded a fair bit without Chris, this was his first day out without me for company and it really made it feel like it was actually a competition. An eventful day, I think this deserves a proper write up. I’ve had my trip penciled in the diary for a good few weeks and I’ve been really looking forward to birdwatching with my friend Sarah at  Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex- a reserve I’ve heard a lot about but not ever visited myself.

I knew I was onto a good day before I’d even left the house- at least 10 Goldfinch in the garden and I discovered that something had finally discovered my Window Feeders as all the suet pellets and mealworm had disappeared! I caught the culprits red handed/beaked on Sunday morning:

 

Starling’s Sunday Breakfast!

 

The good luck continued, as once I left the A27, the route to Pulborough took me through some beautiful Sussex countryside until eventually I arrived on site to a car park full of birds flitting from tree to tree. Arriving before Sarah, I took the opportunity to do something I keep forgetting to do- I finally joined the RSPB. This is something I should have done quite some time ago and it feels really good to be (finally) supporting such a great cause. If you’re interested in nature, please consider donating here or becoming a member too. Sarah soon arrived, walking boots on, sandwiches and binoculars in hand and ready to go!

Pulborough Brooks is a reserve of two very contrasting halves. One of flat wetland full of waders and wildfowl and the other a contoured up and down woodland area with patches of deciduous trees, pines and open clearings. Both sides are beautiful and both so completely different. Setting off, we (or should this be I?!) decided to try our luck for Crossbill which had been reported, so made our way through the woodland paths. Whilst Sarah and I have discussed going birding a lot, I’d not really appreciated that Sarah had never really watched birds before. I’d managed to make the (incorrect) assumption that by being interested in coming with me, Sarah was already interested in birds, and therefore knew a fair bit about them. I think where birds have always been a part of my life since I was tiny, I’d not appreciated before that this isn’t the case for everyone and that to some people a Blue Tit isn’t a Blue Tit at all, its just a bird.

I feel I need to apologise to Sarah here, as by making this assumption I perhaps threw her in a bit at the deep end by looking for Crossbill! She probably thought I was spouting absolute babble at this point as I’d assumed that she would know exactly what we were looking for, which was a very stupid error on my part. As we started walking, Sarah quickly informed me that she didn’t really know anything about birds, so our initial spotting involved me pointing out what was visible and explaining what each species was with the help of a field guide. Hopefully, I didn’t go too far, and by pointing out Blackbird, Chaffinch and Robin I think I gave Sarah a bit of an insight into some common birds she may well see on a day to day basis. What is very tricky, is describing where certain birds are to a non-birder when looking through your binoculars, considering that in a wood, virtually all the trees and branches sound pretty much the same from a verbal description ‘that branch on that tree’ isn’t really any help, especially when you don’t know what you’re actually looking at or for!

Only a few steps into our walk, whilst I was scanning the tops of pines for my beloved Crossbill, Sarah picked up on something flying in and landing on a tree further away. Raising my binoculars to get a closer look, she had spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker– what a first bird to find on our day out! The Woodpecker stayed around for a bit, moving from tree to tree.  This gave Sarah a chance to get used to her binoculars as well as discovering that watching birds does involve a lot of waiting around for things to re-emerge and I think she was very definitely introduced to the birdwatcher’s frustration of just as you find something in your field of vision it has a real knack of then deciding to move on.

 

Gorgeous dramatic sunlight

 

I would like to add here that I owe a very big Thank You to Sarah for giving me a new perspective to birdwatching. Thinking of how a newbie views birds has made me think and I have realised that knowing what you are seeing adds a completely different outlook to how you appreciate birds, and I hope that I gave her an ok introduction to the world of birds. We settled on a fallen tree to stay still and see what we could find- a tactic which yielded Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Long Tailed Tit as well as a very noisy cluster of Great Tit once we moved on. Later in the walk I finally found my sought after Crossbill, with a gorgeous male showing very well whilst he nibbled pine cones. This area of the reserve also gave us even better views of Great Spotted Woodpecker, which I think was a highlight for Sarah.

 

Me searching for GSW (note to self- I need a more camoflagued daypack...)

Having wandered around the Woodland area until we were too hungry to continue, we made a lunch stop at a picnic bench overlooking the feeding stations, which I hope gave Sarah a chance to see some of the more familiar garden birds up close- Dunnock, Pied Wagtail, House Sparrow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch amongst others. Tea and sandwiches consumed, it was time to crack on with a quick visit to the hides overlooking Pulborough Brooks’ wetland.

What I wasn’t expecting, was that we would be waylaid in the visitors centre by a very exciting sighting. It turns out that mealworm are not just a lure for garden visitors but also for a bird I’d always known to be elusive- Water Rail. The ‘tame’ bird that frequents a patch of lawn at Pulborough shows so well that he or she is only a couple of meters from the shop tills, and was absolutely the highlight of my trip. Sarah informs me that I did actually shriek when the warden pointed it out to me so apologies to whoever I deafened in the process. What made this whole experience even more extraordinary is that about 30 seconds beforehand, I’d shown Sarah a photo of Water Rail and said something along the lines of ‘these birds are incredibly difficult to spot as they’re notoriously shy’, only to turn around to find one a couple of meters away. There is a beautiful shot of this bird here.

 

Proof for Chris- my Water Rail photo

 

With hindsight, we ought to have headed to the wetland side of the reserve first- ducks have a much better habit of staying still and allowing you to focus on them, which made for much easier binocular viewing on Sarah’s part. I got the impression that Sarah enjoyed this part of the day much more, and we had excellent views of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shelduck, Pintail and Shoveler amongst others. A quick turn in Nettley’s Hide gave us views of a Snipe and a front row seat at the Shoveler show. I pointed out to Sarah a particularly close male Shoveler who was engaging in some bizarre head bobbing moves. Just as she had got her view right, Mr Shoveler pounced onto his mate. Lets just say that spring had definitely arrived for this pair!

 

View from Nettley’s hide

 

Shoveler are really lovely dabbling ducks. The male looks really dapper in his smart plumage, but best of all they have a long, flat bill which allows them to sift through the mud and silt for food. Have a look for yourself- here’s a Shoveler doing what Shovelers do best- Shoveling!

After this particular highlight, we decided to call it a day, and just in time we arrived at our cars before it really started to pour. Big, big thanks to Sarah for accompanying me- sorry if I birded you out and also apologies if I’ve got you hooked (I’m starting to think it may be the latter…).

Jo

Thank you RSPB!

Yesterday, my blog post made it onto the RSPB Daily! I am so excited, you can see it for yourselves here (scroll down to bottom right of page).

Whilst I’m talking RSPB, I recommended their Bird Identifier tool to Chris yesterday. Its so useful for working out what that mystery bird you might have seen was and I would highly recommend it. You can choose where you saw the bird, what colour, size etc and the site provides you with a visual list of possible birds. Brilliant! The site has excellent info pages on all the species too, I’m a big fan.

 

 

Whilst you’re on the site, why not sign up to become a member and support the future of Britain’s wildlife. I (finally!) joined yesterday on site at Pulborough Brooks (more on my day to follow). Not only do I now get free entry for myself and a friend onto RSPB reserves, they are also giving away a choice of fieldguides as a free gift. If you want to get started or improve your birdwatching skills, what a great way to start.

I spent this morning eyeing up where I next want to visit, but there’s so much choice. A bit of a way away, but I’m going to see if I can talk Chris into joining me on a trip to Rye Meads in Hertfordshire. Its one of the reserves I follow on Twitter and there always seems to be so much seen there.

It is starting to feel like spring is on its way, so time to see the last wintering birds before they head elsewhere to breed.

Jo

An early start

Whilst Team Chris is off on its first solo expedition, I’m birding outside Hampshire for the first time this year. I’m off to meet my friend Sarah at Pulborough Brooks in Sussex. This is the firs time Chris and I have done a real head to head, so I’m excited to see what it throws up for us both. Someone saw this gorgeous Firecrest there last month so we shall see if he’s still showing well.

Updates on my progress today will follow tomorrow. I’m as intrigued as you are to see how well Team Chris fare.

Jo

Hello Again…

Hi Guys,

Not going to lie I have been very absent from the blog for a long time, this is for numerous reasons but hopefully this should change now and if I talk nicely to Jo she might show me how to use this properly!

Just a quick entry to say that tomorrow is the first day that I will be ‘birding’ without Jo, this gives me mixed emotions. On one hand I am very excited to be venturing out on my own with Greg, I shall be the senior birder and I’m really hoping that he enjoys it and we can see some things that Jo won’t have, I have even dug out my Grandpa’s binoculars, yet I shall miss seeing things with Jo, but tomorrow is definitely all about #teamchris

I will be the first to admit that Jo taking the lead in the top 10 race has demotivated me a bit.I’m hoping that a different walk will kick start my enthusiasm again.

Next time I blog I will post my January score and hopefully provide some pictures that I have got.

Chris

New Forest Snow :)

So Chris and I had a 3 day weekend this week and had decided to spend the Friday on a rescheduled trip to WWT Slimbridge. Yet another overnight snowfall on Thursday* put paid to that plan, so instead we had a lovely relaxed day nearer to home, albeit with a lack of birding. It was just lovely to spend a chilled out day together ahead of a busier weekend.

Whilst I’ve been on 2 HOS walks this year, Chris has only come to the Red Kite walk, so I was actually really surprised when he agreed to accompany my Mum and I on a walk from Shatterford in the New Forest. Honestly, I’m convinced it was only because Chris didn’t want me to spot anything I’d not seen already without him seeing it too. Again, Chris and I brought the average age of the group down quite considerably, but I am still warmed every time I go on a group by how friendly everyone is and how willing they are to share their time and knowledge with others. I also quite like how excited other birders often are by having young, enthusiastic birders with them. Its really lovely to feel so welcomed.

The walk started brilliantly, with Goldcrest feeding in a pine by the car park which also had Treecreeper having breakfast on the trunk of the same tree. There must have been at least 6 Goldcrest which was lovely to see and some were even feeding on the ground, which no one in the group had seen before. Seeing such tiny birds on the ground right out in the open didn’t seem right as my mental image of Goldcrest is a tiny fluff-ball hiding amongst foliage and seeming altogether more shy and reclusive. A fantastic start to a lovely day. The walk continued with success- pairs of Crossbill (another of my Top 10) collecting nesting material and taking it up high in the pines for construction was gorgeous to watch, with one particular pair showing really well and deciding to have a pine cone snack for all to see on the only leaf free branch. My favourite moment of the morning was watching Mr Crossbill scoffing the seeds from a pine cone so greedily that he lost his grip and dropped the cone. I love slightly comical birding moments.

Once the Crossbills had given up putting on a show, we headed off for the main attraction of the walk- Great Grey Shrike. This bird is regularly reported in the area and had been seen the day before, so we set off towards its most recent haunt. Within seconds of arriving, the walk leader had spotted the Shrike high atop a distant shrub, surveying his surroundings and looking alert. Success. I never thought tracking down a bird would be so easy, but he was so far away I don’t think I’d ever have spotted him was it not for the more experienced birders there too. At this point Chris was seeming quite disheartened so telling him at this point that this was another of my Top 10 crossed off felt pretty mean, especially considering someone else had pointed it out to me. More Goldcrest appeared, bobbing along a pine hedge and again feeding on the ground- the cold must be leading them to desperate measures!

The walk later threw up a load more winter visitors and woodland species, with Siskin, Redwing,  and Mistle Thrush all seen before lunch. Chris had his birding moment of the day after lunch, when he spotted a lovely male Stonechat by himself, which I think he was pretty smug about. Although he didn’t say it, I could tell he felt excited for spotting something that the other birders hadn’t spied first. Adding Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and this time a pair of Stonechat before returning to the car rounded of a great day out in the forest. The residual snow and cold weather made for a bleak day on the moorland areas, but really highlighted just how beautiful the New Forest really is and reminded me how much I love spending my time outside when I can. Going back to the office on Monday morning was a bit of a come down after a wonderful day out and about.

Jo

*Note to self: next time I want snowfall, plan a trip to Slimbridge. The two seem to correlate at the moment!

A non-birdy bird filled walk

Last Sunday involved us heading out for a walk with friends. Friends who are very much NOT interested in birding. Despite this, we did pack the binoculars, and it was a good job that we did- what a day of great finds!

As we were really only planning a short walk and then a nice lunch somewhere, we decided to walk the couple of miles from Beaulieu to Buckler’s Hard and back. Whilst the outward leg was a little boring scenery wise, the return journey along the Beaulieu River was great and definitely to be recommended.

Finding a hide along the way, I was hoping that the frozen water could throw up something interesting, but this was very much not the case on this occasion with only a fluffed up Pheasant making an appearance! It did prove to be a much better spot for drinking hot chocolate somewhere sheltered than for finding birds. We managed to make it the whole way to Buckler’s Hard without spotting anything of note except this very friendly Robin atop a post, which Greg got very close to:

Buckler’s Hard threw up all manner of birds. Some very friendly Mallards hoping for lunch, Black Headed Gull galore, an inquisitive Mute Swan Cygnet and the most bedraggled looking Lapwing I’ve ever seen. There was also a lone Brent Goose which came very close, which really emphasised how tiny these Geese actually are- barely larger than a Mallard. We had barely started to head back to Beaulieu for lunch when I spotted a cormorant sized bird coming in to land on the water. Something about it didn’t fit for cormorant, so I decided to have a quick peek through my bins.

Seeing what looked distinctly like some sort of Diver, I got very excited and ran to get as close as I could, shouting ‘Its a diver, WOW, its a diver!!’ to the rather bemused others. As I’ve said before, birdwatching isn’t exactly the coolest of hobbies, and I think this is a case in point of how to appear to be a complete weirdo. Whilst Chris seemed to realise that I may have seen something quite special, I think our friends thought I had finally lost it! Sharing binoculars, Chris and I both managed a quick glimpse of it before it dived, popped up in the distance and didn’t emerge anywhere visible again. Whilst I’m convinced it was a winter plumage Great Northern Diver, Chris remains sure that it was a Black Throated Diver. We’ll never know, but based on size, I am sure that I saw my first GND in the most unlikely of locations!

Walking back, my birding luck continued with a scuffle of leaves amongst brambles. Keeping my binoculars firmly fixed (and apologising for the continual bird detours), I was delighted to notice one, then two female Bullfinch emerge from the scrub to feed. Another of my top ten, these were beautiful to watch and I am convinced that this makes it into my top 5 birds ever. Whilst I didn’t see the male, the two females made a beautiful addition to my year list. The walk back was far more scenic than our route out and managed to throw up Cormorant, Shoveller and Shelduck along the way. These more than average ducks even interested our non-birder friends, which surprised me no end and did make me wonder whether everyone can get into birding, its just a matter of finding the right birds for them to be interested in.

I think I’ve learned the trick for spotting birds I’d really like to see- don’t go out expecting to see them! Anyone who is keen for a birdy or non-birdy walk sometime, please let me know, you never know what may turn up.

Sorry Chris, but I think that makes us even at 3-3!

Jo

3-0 no more

Last Saturday, Chris and I took part in the naturebites bird race. You can see the full results (and how unimpressive our total of 41 was) here. Whilst we were nowhere near to the very impressive 108 species spotted by the winner, we had a great day birding out and about in the cold weather.

Overnight snow put paid to our original plan to head to WWT Slimbridge for their Festival of Birds and to get Chris some binoculars of his own. Slimbridge has had some excellent birds seen there recently and I was looking forward to a day of waders and wildfowl as well as all the events that the Festival had in store. Instead, we stayed local to Hampshire and decided to head to Farlington Marshes so Chris could up his wader knowledge while the tide was in and species were relatively close. We took a detour to Southsea on our way to see a bird I really should have put on my top 10- Purple Sandpiper. These are very frequently reported at Southsea Castle, and having checked the tide tables for high tide, I thought our luck was in. What I hadn’t banked on was that high tide doesn’t just mean birds close to coast, it means that the tide is so high there would be nowhere for the Sandpipers to sit. This disappointment on side, we managed to spot Gulls, several common birds and a couple of lovely Sanderling during our walk along the shore so it wasn’t an entirely wasted detour but probably not the best use of our first bird race hour!

Arriving at the Broadmarsh end of Farlington, this time high tide proved successful as most ducks and waders were close enough to the shore for us to identify them.  Having IDed as many waders as we could, we kept walking towards the reserve. Whilst I had planned a lunch spot across on the harbour side, Chris’s lack of breakfast resulted in us stopping for a break much sooner than planned, overlooking what I thought was a pretty uneventful pond. A couple of fat Teal, a lot of Coot and a few Mallard accompanied a small group of Brent Geese. We’d not been there long, when the sound of wingbeats caused us to turn our heads. A large flock of Brents were coming in to land. Watching at least 100 Geese trying to direct their rather cumbersome selves towards the small patch of non-frozen water was entertaining to say the least. Somehow, we managed to watch this spectacle without getting covered in Goose excrement (an achievement in itself!) and most of the flock made it onto the pond with rather ungainly but successful landings.

 

 

We’d just about settled into our thermos of soup when a bird came speeding past to our right and then settled on a perch at the edge of the reedbed. A Kingfisher. Within a week Chris had gone from zero to 4 sightings. This was a great spot, but paled into insignificance compared to what came next.

Looking onto the lake and reedbed, we both noticed two little brown birds flutter along the waterside and disappear amid a whir of wings into the reeds. Once hidden, a series of calls escaped. I’m no expert on birdsong, but I do know that bearded tits ‘ping’ and this certainly sounded a lot like ‘pinging’ to me! Before long, the rustles began to emerge as birds atop the reeds, Bearded Tits gorging themselves silly on the seeds. Appearing couple by couple, there were at least 3 pairs flitting around feeding and bouncing from reed to reed. We watched them whilst we finished our soup, so close  we were able watch them quite happily without our binoculars. Their balancing skills are to be envied, and how they don’t fall over when jumping onto a new reed which bands over with their weight is truly amazing. I couldn’t have dreamt of seeing one pair, let alone so many so close. We stayed put for over half an hour whilst the birds enjoyed their lunch. I have to say that leaving was incredibly difficult- I could have watched them all day, but we had a walk to finish and I wanted to track down a Pintail for Chris to see. Before leaving, a warden we’d been chatting to pointed us towards an incoming Marsh Harrier quartering the reserve. From nowhere, I’d managed to go from none of my top ten to ticking off 2 in half an hour, all without really trying.

Have a quick peek at what we saw through someone else’s video here:

 

While we tracked down a couple of Pintail in the distance, after our lunchtime birding bonanza nothing quite managed to live up to our Bearded Tit amazement. These birds were even more amazing in reality than I could have imagined, perfectly marked, and flitting around in pairs this has to be my most memorable bird experience to date.

I also managed to add another bird call to my memory bank- the Curlew. This sound is brilliant and has to be the soundtrack of choice to this fantastic day’s birding.

Many thanks,

Jo