Birdfair bonanza

Hello all- it has been far too long.

Just a quick post tonight to promise that we are back and after a weekend at Birdfair, our birding passion has been reignited. I suppose one of the benefits of not blogging for so long is that at least we now have a lot to tell you all about- right back to April needs a proper update really. For those of you who don’t know- a description I’ve read somewhere (which will give you some idea) is ‘Glastonbury for Birdwatchers’…

Well this weekend turned out to be the hottest few days of the year so far, and the two of us spent it dripping in sweat whilst traipsing from marquee to marquee. Were we mad? Probably. Was it worth it? Most definitely, although we now need to win the lottery to spend the next decade touring the world to go and see all the amazing species we got a glimpse of at the various travel stands. Top of the list is the Galapagos, although we’ll need to save for quite some time for that trip. Chris and I sat in on several lectures over the 2 days we were there, but for me the talk by Andy Tucker of Naturetrek made me want to head to Galapagos right away. See why for yourselves- just amazing! I just cannot imagine being so close to so many amazing species- Galapagos Tortoise, Galapagos Sea Lion, Magnificent Frigatebird, Blue footed Booby, Sea Iguana, Waved Albatross- the list goes on and on. I have never wanted to go somewhere so much.

Blue-footed Booby, taken in the galapagos isla...

Blue-footed Booby (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata...

Waved Albatross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Galapagos lecture was swiftly followed by another, this time on the Russian Far East, by Chris Collins. Chris has a real fascination with Russia and I am totally captivated by Spoon-billed Sandpiper– possibly the most beautiful wader ever? The talk guided us through species after species with particularly amazing auks- Tufted Puffins, Horned Puffin, Crested Auklet. I also discovered an amazing animal that I had never even seen before- Ribbon Seal.

Ribbon seal

Ribbon seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The marquees were just filled with companies or tourist boards offering birding in all manner of far flung (and closer to home) adventures, and it was absolutely overwhelming. There are so many places I would love to explore, and aside from the Galapagos Islands, I am totally drawn to the Azores, Spain’s Raptors, migration through Israel and in the UK, a trip to Skomer is going to be a must before the year is out.

Finally on the travel front, I do not know anyone who doesn’t love Owls. Chris and I have a massive soft spot for Owls, so when we went to hear David Lindo, The Urban Birder speak at Portsmouth RSPB Local Group a few weeks back and he briefly mentioned Serbia, and in particular Kikinda, we were sold. This town is the Long-eared Owl capital of the world, with up to 750 birds coming together in daytime roosts. At Birdfair, David’s talk was just about Serbia and I think a trip there in 2013 may well be on the cards.

 

More to come later in the week about the rest of our bird highlights- organisations, charities, books, celebrity spotting (yes, Bill Oddie!!). In the mean time, they may not be anything special, but how about a cheeky pair of Herring Gulls to end with:

 

 

Back soon- enjoy the sunshine,

 

Jo

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Birdtrail 2012

Today has seen me hanging out in a New Forest car park for most of the day. Birdtrail is an annual event organised by a variety of local bird related organisations including RSPB, Hampshire Ornithological Society and the local Wildlife Trust. Its essentially a day out for children which takes the form of a bird race, where each team needs to tick off as many birds as they can, topped off with a results ceremony at the end. I’ve got involved as a HOS volunteer and have been manning the Start point as teams begin and return from their trail. Along the way are activities as well as quizzes at the start point. All in all a brillant idea, I’m just jealous they didn’t have this when I was a YOC youngster. It is fantastic to see so many children who are such enthusiastic birders taking part and wanting to win. I hope that as many of them continue their hobby through their teens. I know birding isn’t the coolest of hobbies, but it is a skill that sticks with you for life. I’m glad I’ve now come back to it, but wish I hadn’t left the birding community for all those years in between.

Whilst the winning team’s best bird was a Hawfinch, the firecrest I watched bobbing about underneath a bench was my highlight, lovely.

Jo

First things first

Wow, sorry for the wait. Its already 14 days into May and I’ve still not updated you all on my March figures, I’m surprised you’ve all survived the suspense! As it’s been so long, to put things in perspective, by the end of February, my year total was up to 104, with a massive 85 of these seen in January. If you’ve been checking out my yearlist at all, you may have noticed that by the end of March a couple of migrants such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap had crept onto the list.

For non-birding readers (or those just beginning- hello Sarah!), I feel I ought to update you a little on the birdwatching year. Winter is a great time of year for birding, as a lot of birds migrate here to survive the winter in a warmer(!) climate. This may seem mad when you think about some of our summer migrants such as Cuckoos, which travel to Africa for a warmer winter, but when you consider that our winter visitors may have come from Scandinavia, Russia or Iceland, you can understand how Britain may appeal as being warm to them. Because of these influxes, winter is an exciting time of year for birdwatching, and my mission for the first few months of the year had been to catch up with as many winter visitors as I could. In theory, this should mean that by the time the winter months of 2012 arrive I should be ahead of Chris in our year-lists and can concentrate specifically on species that I missed at the start of the year. This may be very organised and some may even say tactical or obsessive, but without taking this seriously, Chris is likely to beat me in enthusiasm alone so I need all I can to stay ahead.

Moving on through the seasons, spring heralds a different kind of birding. Spring migrants who have spent their winters somewhere warmer start to appear, and this often brings an influx of slightly peculiar and unexpected birds. This in a way is one of the advantages of being in the south, as it means that I get to see migrants before they’ve made it to the rest of the country. Whilst Hampshire isn’t well known for turning up a lot of unusual visitors with spring migration, the periphery of the country tends to be where these kind of birds turn up. Places like Norfolk, the Scilly Isles, Cornwall and (more locally) the Isle of Wight tend to get exciting rarities more often than other parts of the country. Basically, if you’re a bird flying in from the continent or Africa, think of the first places you would be likely to hit land for a breather, and these are the places that will be good for rarities. Racing around to see unusual birds at this time of year is a different type of birding to that which I enjoy, but the spring months are a twitcher’s paradise.

Along with the odd rarity, this is a lovely time of year to be a birder of any sort, and I for one love nothing more than the suspense of waiting to see the first Swallow and then Swift of the year or hear the first Chiffchaff, Cuckoo or Nightingale. It’s lovely to know which species you are expecting back, and to feel happy to welcome them when you do finally see your first. This year I was particularly looking forward to seeing my first Wheatear of 2012, and having finally tracked one down in Cornwall I’ve now been seeing them by the bucketload. However many I’ve seen, Wheatear never cease to delight me as they’re such lovely characters, and anyone who is not mesmerised by a sky full of Swallows and Swifts in my opinion has something wrong. Spring is such a lovely time of year all round.

The migrants have kept on coming right through April and into May. Whilst my March total of 11 was pretty disappointing, I have managed to claw it back in April when I saw a grand total of 27 species (wahoo!) including a lot of summer migrants as well as birds from habitats I’ve not really birded so far this year such as coastal cliffs in Cornwall. This takes my yearlist to a very respectable 142. Considering I decided that anything over 150 would be a decent enough figure for my first year of officially listing, to get this far in the first third of this year is something I am very pleased with. At this point, I have no idea where Chris is at in terms of totals (and I’m not sure if he does either) but I am keen to know what his total is so far.

Here’s to continuing to keep up with migrants over the next month.

Keep birding, proper updates to come soon.

Jo

What a weekend :)

Whew, I’m back and unpacked from a great weekend. Chris and I have been visiting my grandparents in Shropshire and have had a fantastic time catching up and getting out and about. We have lots to update the blog with (as if we weren’t behind enough already!) so we will be blogging properly soon. We spent Saturday on Anglesey, visiting the RSPB reserve at South Stack near Holyhead and then returning via Cemlyn Bay to see the nesting Terns and meet fellow blogger Kathy of naturebites in person. Kathy is also the first female birder I’ve met over 10/under 40 apart from me, so its great to know I’m not alone! Full post to follow, but we had a beautiful day in the sunshine.

Today was at a much slower pace, with a visit to Chirk Castle (National Trust) and a walk around the woodland there which threw up a lot of the usual woodland species. All in all a great couple of days although not the destinations I was expecting to visit when I left the house on Saturday.

More to follow very shortly!

Jo

We’ll be back soon- I promise…

…with lots of tales of our recent birding exploits from a long weekend in Cornwall. I added another 12 yearticks to my list and had some amazing sightings, so I am very much looking forward to sharing them all with you. I’ve had a mega hectic April, hence the lack of posts, but I’m going to try to get back on track. Chris is pre-occupied with upcoming best-man duties this coming weekend so he is likely to be a little on the quiet side, but I will update you all on our weekend (plus a few of my other recent highlights!) ASAP. I suspect our March totals will be coming out along with our April ones at some point in the not too distant future. I am well aware we need to get going on a Chris vs Jo birding day- let the battle commence!

 

In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of our lovely weekend (no Choughs caught on film).

 

Jo

 

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!

Jo