Preview- Casual Birding

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…

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: