Four – Four

Some of you may remember from my top 10 post that Hawfinch is one of my 2012 target birds. Along with Ruff, it also features on Chris’s Top 10 (which although you don’t know, I do!) so we’ve both been itching to get out there and find one. Having seen reports of up to 10 of these birds at Lakeside Country Park in Eastleigh (pretty much just down the road), I knew that I had to make a trip. The two of us set off this morning and had our first ever Hawfinch success. Whilst another couple we met there were lucky enough to have seen a group of 5 shortly before we arrived, we did manage to see a lone bird twice- WOW these are gorgeous birds! Although I knew they were large they really are a massive finch in the flesh.

Neither of us had ever been to Lakeside before and its a lovely little Oasis tucked between Eastleigh town centre and Southampton Airport with a Country Park, lots of fishing, kayaking and a model steam railway. Given its fairly urban location, I was surprised at the variety of birdlife we spotted. On the water, we spied 5 Great Crested Grebe amongst the Black Headed Gulls, Coot, Mallard, Canada and Greylag Geese with a few Moorhen and Jackdaw rummaging around the grassy banks. Overhead, we saw a miscellaneous falcon (my money’s on Kestrel), Sparrowhawk and Buzzard soaring.

Just about to head home, we were given a boost when the same couple who had seen 5 Hawfinch told us they’d just seen 3 Water Rail all together (some people have all the luck) in the marshes below the Railway tunnel so we quick footed it in the right direction. Whilst we didn’t catch sight of the Rails nor the Woodcock that had previously been reported, we did see a resplendent male Reed Bunting singing his heart out from a shrub-top as well as the most amazing Green Woodpecker I’ve ever seen. Absolutely convinced he needed to sit atop a post and survey the grass, we saw him flit from tree, to booting a Magpie off a post and then from fencepost to fencepost giving us spectacular views of his bandit-like black mask.

Whilst we spied a late Winter visitor in the form of a Redwing, Spring is now most definitely in the air- lots of gorgeous blossom, 2 pairs of Great Crested Grebe (sadly no courtship display), a pair of Canada Geese getting rather fruity and lots of singing Chaffinch, Great Tit and our Mr Reed Bunting. My Spring highlight of the day was watching a pair of Long Tailed Tits at very close range gathering moss from tree trunks to line their nests with. Not a bad lot of sightings (plus 3 yearticks) for just over an hour!

A brilliant start to my weekend. Now I’m off out for a girly tea and cake session with friends.

Another trip (and some potential twitching) planned for tomorrow, so fingers crossed our luck continues. I’ve been having a great week so far, as well as my binoculars, I found out on Thursday that I’ve won another birdy prize- a signed copy of ‘The Biggest Twitch’ as our Bearded Tits scooped the ‘Best Bird’ prize from the Naturebites Bird Race!

Jo

If you’re a local and want to see a Hawfinch yourself (or miniature model railways are your thing), the Country Park can be found here:

A Call to Arms

Right, its time to get seriously competitive. Whilst we’ve spent January and February birding along nicely, we’ve not really done what we set out to do yet, and thats out-bird one another. I would like to put an invite out there to any of you who fancies joining Team Jo (or Team Chris for that matter!) on a birding day out.

Now that Spring (and with it migrants) is nearly here, an idea that I would really like to get going is a day of Team Chris vs Team Jo to see who can pick up the most species within a set time limit (sort of like the Bird Race we took part in last month, but with fewer teams). If you’d be interested in tagging along with either team, please let one of us know and we can set a date and decide some details! Whilst I’m planning a full on trip for the future, we would like to go a couple of informal head to heads over the next couple of months as a warm up.

As an added bonus, I found out today that I featured in Birdwatching magazine’s March issue as letter of the month (yay!), which has won me a pair of shiny new binoculars. Having just bought a pair each last week, Chris and I now have a spare set for anyone who would like to borrow them an join us on a days birding, perfect timing!

Hands up if you want to join one of our teams, and let the battle commence!

Jo

Through the wind and rain

Having had a glorious day of sunshine on Saturday, I was looking forward to a long planned walk with our friends Ben and Caroline on Sunday. On waking up, I quickly realised that a lovely stroll in the sunshine was not what we were in for. The weather could not have been more opposite in character- throughout the day we had rain, sleet, hail and a lot of wind. Not exactly perfect for an adventure on foot. Although we made a detour en route to the lovely Rosie Lea tea rooms in Brockenhurst for a cuppa in the hope the rain would ease off by the time we’d finished, the miserable weather continued.

Warmed and undeterred, we jumped in the car and made our way over to Pennington Marshes to see how far we could wander before we gave up. Caroline and Ben have been following this blog so far (hello guys!) so birding was on the agenda, and through the wind and rain Chris and I were able to point out Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Shoveller, Little Egret, Coot, Turnstone, Redshank and Oystercatcher among others, before we were so frozen in the sea breeze that we had to return to the car to warm up and dry off.

Pennington Marshes

The boys march on checking out Dunlin whilst I’m distracted by Turnstones!

There’s been a ‘burder’- looks like a Swan wasn’t very lucky…

I’ve never had so much fun getting cold. Looking forward to our next outing!

In other news, my garden is becoming a bird haven- I spied 2 pairs of Siskin on Sunday and a lone Goldcrest on Monday morning whilst having breakfast. Sorry Bill Turnbull et al, the garden is becoming much more compelling viewing than BBC Breakfast!

Jo

A quick note on Chris’s behalf- he’s been super busy recently working a load of 8:00- 22:00 days to get a load of work out of the way, so not much time for blogging. I promise he’ll be back soon- his posts are far more entertaining than mine!

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