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

 

Quick Update

Just to let you all know that I’m away for my best friends stag this weekend, so there will be no birding for me until next weekend. Although I plan to finally reveal my “Top 10” and type up all the birds I’ve seen so far this year on Sunday evening when I’m nursing my inevitable monster hangover.

Until then stay cool

Chris

P.s I would just like to wish Toby Harbour who works with me and regularly comments on the blog (also a #teamchris member) a speedy recovery from a very nasty injury, it won’t be long until you can come on walks with me to recuperate 🙂

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.

Jo

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.

Jo

* 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…