A Lesser Spotted Sunday Treat

Sunday marked another day of very leisurely birding. I would probably even go so far as to say that calling it ‘birding’ may be a bit of a stretch, more like ‘enjoying the sunshine with a pair of binoculars’. Being a glorious day, we decided to set out to Lepe Country Park to enjoy the weather on the Coast. When we arrived, we quickly realised that most of Hampshire had the exact same idea as it was absolutely heaving which was definitely not what I had been hoping for!

We managed to find a vacant bench looking over the Solent towards the Isle of Wight and enjoyed the sunshine whilst flicking through a magazine and snacking on lunch. Just lazing about was perfect and whilst my life has revolved around birding recently it was lovely to spend Sunday afternoon enjoying being outside but not just because I was birding. Not much to report on the birding front other than a couple of Long Tailed Tits in the brambles, some ducks and a couple of Canada Geese on an inland patch of water. Pretty much the only highlight was a Black Tailed Godwit– the first I’ve seen in its russety summer plumage probing away in the mud with its beak.

Whilst birds were few and far between there was a lot of blossom around the place which looked stunning in the sunshine:

After a stroll along the sea front, and a stop off for me to finally pick up some local Tide Tables from the visitor centre, we decided to head home with a detour via Hawkhill Inclosure, site of Chris’s deer experience last week. I wasn’t expecting to see anything of note as we just fancied a wander, but I ended up having my birding highlight of the weekend. We took a short circular walk to stretch our legs before heading back home, and the Inclosure looked absolutely beautiful in the bright Spring sunshine.

Having seen a few Chaffinch and Blue Tit on our way round, when Chris spotted something ‘bright green’ in the trees, we stopped to take a look and after a bit of searching a glorious Mr Siskin was revealed. The woods we were looking in seemed to have a fair amount of bird activity in them, so we decided to stop for a while and see what would be revealed. We didn’t have to wait long before we noticed a Great Spotted Woodpecker which we watched for a while and even saw drumming, which was great. Amongst the treetops Chris spotted a fine male Crossbill and we later spotted a female companion. One Siskin soon became several and there was obviously a resident flock residing along with a group of Chaffinch. Whilst looking for a mystery bird Chris had seen, I spied some movement along a knarled tree branch. On closer inspection the movement revealed itself as my first ever Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and best of all it was completely self-found. Like my Firecrest/Goldcrest fears, I always worried I would mistake this bird for its big, brash Great cousin, but this is far from the case. I knew that this was a small woodpecker but I was amazed at how small. This bird was amazing, shuffling along the branches, and definitely one of the best birds I’ve ever seen- a minature, more finely detailed version of a GSW!

On our way back to the car we came across several singing Chiffchaff (fast becoming our weekend soundtrack) and another flock of Siskin in the pines around the car park. A lovely way to end our day in the sunshine.

What a weekend of life ticks!


Sunshine and Springtime

One thing that I have been trying to go recently is to get outside as much as I can. Being stuck in an office all day does make this tricky, but I am doing my best to get out and about in my lunch breaks and making the most of the lighter, springtime evenings and beautiful weather we’ve been having recently.

Last week, I took my bike for a spin and headed to Fishlake Meadows for a spot of evening birding. This was not just an excuse to get outside, but as Chris was away at football for the evening, I was hoping to see some Spring migrants before him and was going in search of Chiffchaff. If you’re not a birder, this may not mean much to you, but I had been craving my first Chiffchaff of the year singing its heart out in the sunshine- one of the true sounds of Spring. These birds aren’t much to look at, but their song is instantly recognisable. There is an excellent video on Chiffchaff ID from the BTO which I found invaluable last Spring (stick it out to the end for the song!):

I heard my first Chiffchaff in a patch of scrub before I’d even arrived at the meadows, and stopped on my bike to take a look. Despite a number of odd looks from passing motorists and being unable to pin down the bird in the shrubbery, I did manage to come across an unexpected male Bullfinch instead. Seeing this chap and his stunning pink colouring more than made up for missing out on the Warbler. I cycled on towards the meadows in the hope that I’d track one down there. Whilst I heard several more Chiffchaff, they all stayed out of view as I headed onto the reedbed. Most of the birds that evening were heard and not seen, but explosive bursts of Cetti’s Warbler and the squealing of several Water Rail were a delight and there was a real feel of Spring about the place. As the dusk closed in, I was treated to a mini murmuration of the local Starling flock, a Kestrel resting on an electricity cable and even a lone bat fluttering through. Just when I thought I’d not see anything else, I saw a Muntjac stag springing away from me before turning around curiously. Not anything to top Chris’s deer experience but wonderful all the same. Whilst some migrants have arrived, the Reed and Sedge Warblers don’t seem to have arrived on site just yet.

Saturday afternoon marked a return to Fishlake and this time, we couldn’t see enough Chiffchaff- they could be seen singing away all over the place. Although we didn’t see a remarkable number of birds, it was lovely to wander and enjoy the sunshine- Celandines in full bloom,  as well as lots of Brimstone and a single Tortoiseshell butterfly fluttering and basking in the sun. Nature really is a wonderful thing that we all take for granted.

I can’t wait for April and the Hobbies, Osprey and other migrants it will (hopefully) begin to bring to Fishlake. Hello Spring- lovely to see you again.


Golden Fire

First of all- apologies for my absence. I think I’ve very nearly given Chris a run for his money on disappearing from the blog…

Either way, I am back and I am birding. The birding actually didn’t go away, I’ve just felt very quiet over the last (rubbish) couple of weeks. What I have realised is that even if I don’t technically go birding, birds and the wonderful moments that go with them are actually all around me all the time. It’s just a matter of keeping my eyes open and seeing what is out there.

Now- I feel compelled to blog after the laziest weekend’s birding I have ever partaken in. I knew I was onto a good thing when Chris and I watched a pair of Goldcrest flitting about the trees in my neighbour’s garden on Saturday morning before we’d even changed out of our PJs. We had a somewhat leisurely start to Saturday which mostly consisted of me insisting I wasn’t going to get ready to go out until I’d had some proper viewing of the garden Goldcrests, which took longer than I expected but was worth the wait. These little ping-pong balls of birds are pretty flighty and I only ever grab a fleeting glimpse in the garden but it is lovely to know they are there. I’m yet to photograph one of these beauties, but as a picture paints a thousand words, I’ve tracked down a beautiful image from someone else:

Saturday turned out to have a warbler family theme. Spurred on by our morning Goldcrests, we set out to Blackwater Arboretum in the New Forest to track down one of Chris’s Top 10. I’ve been swotting up recently, and my recent purchase of ‘Where to Watch Birds in Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight‘ may well be my secret weapon to winning the Big Year. My new birding bible reliably informed me that Blackwater is the most reliable site for Firecrest in the county, so we set off with high hopes. In less than 10 minutes wandering, we spotted some tiny birds flitting about in the conifers. Another 10 minutes or so waiting patiently on a bench with our binoculars ready showed us exactly what we had been hoping for- Firecrest!

These gorgeous little warblers are only slightly larger than their teeny Golden cousins, but my are they beautiful in the flesh. I’d always worried that when I eventually came across a Firecrest I’d struggle to tell it wasn’t a Goldie. I suppose it helps that at this time of year they are in super smart breeding plumage so they really stand out, but they were so much more colourful in real life than I ever imagined. Their backs are a spectacular green and their crests are vivid, highlighter pen orange with a strikingly striped face. Amazing. Again the photos are not mine:

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) at Arundel WWT...

Regulus ignicapilla English: A Common Firecres...

As I suspected, after watching these beautiful birds for a morning, nothing else quite matched them for magic, so we lazily enjoyed the sunshine and an ice cream whilst we watched Chaffinch*, Goldcrest and Firecrest flitting about in the treetops. I couldn’t have asked for more from a Saturday morning.


* Is it just me or has the Chaffinch on the RSPB eaten a LOT of beetroot?! I have never seen a Chaffinch so red in my life. Gets me every time I view that page- I love it! Click the link and let me know what you think…