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

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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

Heartbreak

Well, my mission for tonight is to update on our recent adventures, but with a long train journey ahead of me, I feel the need to share sad news from yesterday.

One of the things I am yet to blog about is that I’m undertaking volunteer work for the RSPB at the moment to survey Lapwings on the South Downs. This is a great excuse to get out and about and to search for signs of Lapwing breeding. Sadly, I’ve only found Lapwing on one field I’ve visited so far, but I fear that even there may not prove fruitful for this species this year.

Yesterday, I was out and about for 4 hours with no sign of Lapwing until the end of the walk. I’d decided on a route which ended up at the place I’d seen them before, so at least if we didn’t spot any, there would be a lovely Lapwing surprise waiting for me before returning to the car. A surprise was definitely what I came across, but not the type I was hoping for.

Approaching the Lapwing field, I could see it was looking very neat and devoid of crops. Getting closer still, what I was dreading to see was confirmed. A farmer was just starting on a second round, having churned up the entire field with a plough. I was devastated and just stood there in disbelief. Watching this take place was truly harrowing and a scan of the field through my binoculars threw up four folorn looking lapwings just watching as their home had been destroyed. Whilst I don’t know 100% that nests had been destroyed, these birds were mobbing crows and performing their lolling display flight over a month ago, so I am fairly certain that nests would have been in place by now. Absolutely horrible to witness and I am not ashamed to say that tears were shed. I’ve had to calm myself before I contact the survey organisers to let them know what happened, but I will be in touch with them later today. In some ways I am glad I was able to witness this so at least I know what happened, but this is undoubtedly the darkest moment of my birding life to date. It just goes to show how farmers must work with nature if our native wildlife is to have a future.

Whilst these events cast a massive shadow on my day, there were positives too. I was lucky enough to see at least 8 Skylark (with more singing), 2 Linnet, 8 Hares as well as the bird of the day which was a lone Grey Partridge spotted by my Mum. We also spied a Corn Bunting singing away at the top of planting on a strip of set aside land which was full of seed producing, wildlife friendly plants. This event in particular just goes to show that if farmers put in some efforts to help declining species, the birds and other species are able to reap the benefits. Whilst little efforts like this strip of land make a difference, a lot more needs to be done to give our farmland birds a positive future.

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 🙂