Jo’s February Round Up

So after storming my way to 81 in January, today I finally totted up my birds this year into an official list. You can see it in its entirety here. In doing so, I’ve realised I managed to miss a few species off my January total, and that number should stand at 85. Having ticked off most of the common birds in January, I knew that continuing to find new species would be a tall order. I have to say, that I’m fairly happy with my February total of 19, bringing my year total to 104!

Having listed my birds of the year properly, I am loving that my 100th bird of the year was the Nuthatch as it gives me an excuse to link to this gorgeous Charley Harper image. Enjoy!

Hawk Highlights

Whilst Chris was entertained by his Owl Flying Experience, I spent last Tuesday at the very quiet (winter weekday) and very lovely (amazing work with Raptors) Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover, Hants. I’ve been going to this place since I was a child and it never gets less special.

In between the day’s flying demonstrations, I spent time watching an unusually pale Buzzard attempting to have Rabbit for lunch before being seen off by a beautiful female Kestrel.

I also took my camera with me to capture some of the residents, so here goes with a couple of photographic Eagle highlights (Golden and Bald):

Third time lucky

Having booked another long weekend off work, Chris and I decided ‘not’ to plan to go to Slimbridge last Monday as the last 2 times we’ve planned to make the (rather long) trip overnight snow put paid to the idea. This time though, the weather was on our side, and I have a confession. For the first time, Chris out-birded me both in enthusiasm and staying power.

Part of the reason for our journey was to visit the In Focus opticals shop for us both to choose some new bins (I’ll let Chris fill you in). Short version is that we are very pleased with our new purchases- the clarity is just amazing.

Before leaving home, I’d been keeping my fingers crossed that Spring migration was not yet in full swing. Slimbridge is a haven for wintering wildfowl (in particular huge flocks of Bewick’s Swan) and as the temperature is rising I was worried that they’d head off before we managed to fit a visit in. Whilst one of the wardens informed us that a large flock of Bewick’s Swans had left the night before, there were still large numbers still in residence. I know Chris isn’t particularly moved by Swans, but for me a field of grazing swans is mesmeric and absolutely beautiful. They are such graceful birds, and I have a real soft spot for Bewick’s- somehow being smaller than the other 2 species they seem more regal and elegant. I particularly enjoyed watching a large feeding flock of Wigeon (fast becoming my favourite duck) guzzling away on the grass as well as a distant flock of White Fronted Geese which after Barnacle Geese added another tick to the yearlist for us both (we’ve been so competitive so far…).

Here’s a taster of what the podgy Wigeon are like- let me know if you’re sharing the love:

What really made the day for me though was a self found Lesser Scaup. Whilst I already had Tufted Duck on my yearlist, since becoming competitive I’ve really started looking twice at things- finch flocks for something unusual, double checking every distant pigeon in case its a Stock Dove. Whilst looking at one particular group, there was one bird that just didn’t seem like a Tuftie and met all the criteria for a Female Scaup– different white patch on the bill, different head shape. What also made this bird stand out was seeing it alongside the female Tufteds for a direct comparison. Whilst I was fairly convinced, the likelihood seemed to improbable and whilst Chris was convinced with my discovery, I was doubting myself. On returning to the visitor centre and checking the sightings board, to my absolute amazement there it was- Lesser Scaup ♀. I’d managed to find an unusual bird without even knowing it was there- a first for me!

Distant Swan Flock

Wigeon Feeding

Another achievement, was me being the one to want to go home first. Being fairly obsessed, I can normally bird until it gets dark- totally boring my companion in the process. On this occasion, I was wilting by lunchtime. Even Slimbridge’s collection of World Wildfowl (Hooded Merganser– absolute legend!) couldn’t lift my spirits as my energy had been completely sapped. In hindsight, I really wasn’t myself all day although on the day it took me until lunchtime to realise I was definitely under the weather and hit by my first full on cold this Winter. I kept going so Chris could enjoy his day, but I think when I slumped on the comfy chairs facing the feeders in the Kingfisher hide, no longer bothering with binoculars he realised it was time to call it a day.

Warming up with a Hot Chocolate

One thing that did make me smile- Eider Ducks. These make the best noise ever and sound like a group of gossiping Grannies cooing 'Ooooohhhh'!

All in all, a brilliant destination- I only wish I’d felt a bit more human to enjoy it!

Jo

Vote now!

Hi all,

Just a quick request really. If you enjoyed our account of our day on the naturebites Bird Race (you can read it again here), then please visit Kathy’s blog here to vote for Best Bird and Best Race. All you need to do is read the blog entry and add a comment at the end to vote for your favourite.

Whilst I would love you all to vote for our Bearded Tits for Best Bird (thanks Kathy!) please feel free to choose your favourite from all the accounts. There are prizes up for grabs for the winner so please use your votes wisely!

Just to try and sway you I am (finally) including some photographs of our Bearded Tits as well as a video which you’ll need to turn the computer sideways for. Also, have a look at Chris’s view of the Bearded Tits here if you’ve not read it already!

Check out that moustache!

 

Can you see the blobs in the reeds? So close! (one to left of each post)

 

 

Thanks to all who vote in advance 😉

Jo

P.S. Kathy’s blog is really interesting, so if you’ve enjoyed our bird adventures then visit her blog here to find out more about hers (she’s a much more seasoned birder than Chris and I put together!)

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

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

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!