Everyday birding

I may have been AWOL from the blog and not out for any proper birding recently, but I have been enjoying the everyday birding- the way you enjoy the birds that are around us every day. For Chris and I, the only outdoor space we have in our new abode is a little balcony on which we’ve got a couple of pots filled with violas. From our 3rd floor flat, although we look out over the city and can see a lot of greenery, the only birds we can not only see but also identify are the Magpies, Wood Pigeons and occasional Crows which settle on the nearby lawns and rooftops.

My day-to-day birding mainly revolves around my walk to and from work. A few Blackbirds digging for worms on the lawns outside the flat, which are constantly home to a cluster of grazing Wood Pigeons. On a daily basis I can hear Coal Tit, Greenfinch and Goldfinch as I leave the house, but always too far away to get a proper view. Although my walk is along a fairly main road, it is quite heavily vegetated amongst the houses, and the birdsong is really hard to miss- Blue Tit, Song Thrush, Blackbirds by the bucketload (but such a lovely song), Goldfinch, Long-Tailed Tit, Great Tit, Wood Pigeon, Jackdaw all keep me company on my daily commute.

Birding though, is a joy which can be taken anywhere. A birder makes any journey an opportunity to eke out the local birds- I see cheerful Pied Wagtails from a particular meeting room at work, bobbing along a nearby roof, always hear a Wren singing away outside the office, and over the past  few months there has been a glorious Goldfinch roost tweedling away from the treetops by the office at the end of a day.

lbbgull

Once you’re tuned in to looking and listening to birds, there are no end of birds to be found. I spied this Lesser Black-Backed Gull from the South Bank Thames Path when I was in London for work recently. Always looking, always finding.

If its not something you do already, making birds an everyday part of your life brings a little more joy to your day.

Jo

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Birdfair bonanza

Hello all- it has been far too long.

Just a quick post tonight to promise that we are back and after a weekend at Birdfair, our birding passion has been reignited. I suppose one of the benefits of not blogging for so long is that at least we now have a lot to tell you all about- right back to April needs a proper update really. For those of you who don’t know- a description I’ve read somewhere (which will give you some idea) is ‘Glastonbury for Birdwatchers’…

Well this weekend turned out to be the hottest few days of the year so far, and the two of us spent it dripping in sweat whilst traipsing from marquee to marquee. Were we mad? Probably. Was it worth it? Most definitely, although we now need to win the lottery to spend the next decade touring the world to go and see all the amazing species we got a glimpse of at the various travel stands. Top of the list is the Galapagos, although we’ll need to save for quite some time for that trip. Chris and I sat in on several lectures over the 2 days we were there, but for me the talk by Andy Tucker of Naturetrek made me want to head to Galapagos right away. See why for yourselves- just amazing! I just cannot imagine being so close to so many amazing species- Galapagos Tortoise, Galapagos Sea Lion, Magnificent Frigatebird, Blue footed Booby, Sea Iguana, Waved Albatross- the list goes on and on. I have never wanted to go somewhere so much.

Blue-footed Booby, taken in the galapagos isla...

Blue-footed Booby (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata...

Waved Albatross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Galapagos lecture was swiftly followed by another, this time on the Russian Far East, by Chris Collins. Chris has a real fascination with Russia and I am totally captivated by Spoon-billed Sandpiper– possibly the most beautiful wader ever? The talk guided us through species after species with particularly amazing auks- Tufted Puffins, Horned Puffin, Crested Auklet. I also discovered an amazing animal that I had never even seen before- Ribbon Seal.

Ribbon seal

Ribbon seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The marquees were just filled with companies or tourist boards offering birding in all manner of far flung (and closer to home) adventures, and it was absolutely overwhelming. There are so many places I would love to explore, and aside from the Galapagos Islands, I am totally drawn to the Azores, Spain’s Raptors, migration through Israel and in the UK, a trip to Skomer is going to be a must before the year is out.

Finally on the travel front, I do not know anyone who doesn’t love Owls. Chris and I have a massive soft spot for Owls, so when we went to hear David Lindo, The Urban Birder speak at Portsmouth RSPB Local Group a few weeks back and he briefly mentioned Serbia, and in particular Kikinda, we were sold. This town is the Long-eared Owl capital of the world, with up to 750 birds coming together in daytime roosts. At Birdfair, David’s talk was just about Serbia and I think a trip there in 2013 may well be on the cards.

 

More to come later in the week about the rest of our bird highlights- organisations, charities, books, celebrity spotting (yes, Bill Oddie!!). In the mean time, they may not be anything special, but how about a cheeky pair of Herring Gulls to end with:

 

 

Back soon- enjoy the sunshine,

 

Jo

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A Lesser Spotted Sunday Treat

Sunday marked another day of very leisurely birding. I would probably even go so far as to say that calling it ‘birding’ may be a bit of a stretch, more like ‘enjoying the sunshine with a pair of binoculars’. Being a glorious day, we decided to set out to Lepe Country Park to enjoy the weather on the Coast. When we arrived, we quickly realised that most of Hampshire had the exact same idea as it was absolutely heaving which was definitely not what I had been hoping for!

We managed to find a vacant bench looking over the Solent towards the Isle of Wight and enjoyed the sunshine whilst flicking through a magazine and snacking on lunch. Just lazing about was perfect and whilst my life has revolved around birding recently it was lovely to spend Sunday afternoon enjoying being outside but not just because I was birding. Not much to report on the birding front other than a couple of Long Tailed Tits in the brambles, some ducks and a couple of Canada Geese on an inland patch of water. Pretty much the only highlight was a Black Tailed Godwit– the first I’ve seen in its russety summer plumage probing away in the mud with its beak.

Whilst birds were few and far between there was a lot of blossom around the place which looked stunning in the sunshine:

After a stroll along the sea front, and a stop off for me to finally pick up some local Tide Tables from the visitor centre, we decided to head home with a detour via Hawkhill Inclosure, site of Chris’s deer experience last week. I wasn’t expecting to see anything of note as we just fancied a wander, but I ended up having my birding highlight of the weekend. We took a short circular walk to stretch our legs before heading back home, and the Inclosure looked absolutely beautiful in the bright Spring sunshine.

Having seen a few Chaffinch and Blue Tit on our way round, when Chris spotted something ‘bright green’ in the trees, we stopped to take a look and after a bit of searching a glorious Mr Siskin was revealed. The woods we were looking in seemed to have a fair amount of bird activity in them, so we decided to stop for a while and see what would be revealed. We didn’t have to wait long before we noticed a Great Spotted Woodpecker which we watched for a while and even saw drumming, which was great. Amongst the treetops Chris spotted a fine male Crossbill and we later spotted a female companion. One Siskin soon became several and there was obviously a resident flock residing along with a group of Chaffinch. Whilst looking for a mystery bird Chris had seen, I spied some movement along a knarled tree branch. On closer inspection the movement revealed itself as my first ever Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and best of all it was completely self-found. Like my Firecrest/Goldcrest fears, I always worried I would mistake this bird for its big, brash Great cousin, but this is far from the case. I knew that this was a small woodpecker but I was amazed at how small. This bird was amazing, shuffling along the branches, and definitely one of the best birds I’ve ever seen- a minature, more finely detailed version of a GSW!

On our way back to the car we came across several singing Chiffchaff (fast becoming our weekend soundtrack) and another flock of Siskin in the pines around the car park. A lovely way to end our day in the sunshine.

What a weekend of life ticks!

Jo

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

A non-birdy bird filled walk

Last Sunday involved us heading out for a walk with friends. Friends who are very much NOT interested in birding. Despite this, we did pack the binoculars, and it was a good job that we did- what a day of great finds!

As we were really only planning a short walk and then a nice lunch somewhere, we decided to walk the couple of miles from Beaulieu to Buckler’s Hard and back. Whilst the outward leg was a little boring scenery wise, the return journey along the Beaulieu River was great and definitely to be recommended.

Finding a hide along the way, I was hoping that the frozen water could throw up something interesting, but this was very much not the case on this occasion with only a fluffed up Pheasant making an appearance! It did prove to be a much better spot for drinking hot chocolate somewhere sheltered than for finding birds. We managed to make it the whole way to Buckler’s Hard without spotting anything of note except this very friendly Robin atop a post, which Greg got very close to:

Buckler’s Hard threw up all manner of birds. Some very friendly Mallards hoping for lunch, Black Headed Gull galore, an inquisitive Mute Swan Cygnet and the most bedraggled looking Lapwing I’ve ever seen. There was also a lone Brent Goose which came very close, which really emphasised how tiny these Geese actually are- barely larger than a Mallard. We had barely started to head back to Beaulieu for lunch when I spotted a cormorant sized bird coming in to land on the water. Something about it didn’t fit for cormorant, so I decided to have a quick peek through my bins.

Seeing what looked distinctly like some sort of Diver, I got very excited and ran to get as close as I could, shouting ‘Its a diver, WOW, its a diver!!’ to the rather bemused others. As I’ve said before, birdwatching isn’t exactly the coolest of hobbies, and I think this is a case in point of how to appear to be a complete weirdo. Whilst Chris seemed to realise that I may have seen something quite special, I think our friends thought I had finally lost it! Sharing binoculars, Chris and I both managed a quick glimpse of it before it dived, popped up in the distance and didn’t emerge anywhere visible again. Whilst I’m convinced it was a winter plumage Great Northern Diver, Chris remains sure that it was a Black Throated Diver. We’ll never know, but based on size, I am sure that I saw my first GND in the most unlikely of locations!

Walking back, my birding luck continued with a scuffle of leaves amongst brambles. Keeping my binoculars firmly fixed (and apologising for the continual bird detours), I was delighted to notice one, then two female Bullfinch emerge from the scrub to feed. Another of my top ten, these were beautiful to watch and I am convinced that this makes it into my top 5 birds ever. Whilst I didn’t see the male, the two females made a beautiful addition to my year list. The walk back was far more scenic than our route out and managed to throw up Cormorant, Shoveller and Shelduck along the way. These more than average ducks even interested our non-birder friends, which surprised me no end and did make me wonder whether everyone can get into birding, its just a matter of finding the right birds for them to be interested in.

I think I’ve learned the trick for spotting birds I’d really like to see- don’t go out expecting to see them! Anyone who is keen for a birdy or non-birdy walk sometime, please let me know, you never know what may turn up.

Sorry Chris, but I think that makes us even at 3-3!

Jo

Jo’s Top 10 Target Birds (in no particular order):

So, 3-0 down to a total newbie- its time for me to take this competitive birdwatching seriously!

Whilst Chris has hinted at our top 10s, I feel I need to explain this further. On New Years Day, we both sat down and chose 10 birds we would each aim to see this year. This post has been a long time coming, saved as a draft post on Jan 3rd, I’ve never quite got around to finishing it and making it public. I think that makes the challenge feel final, something I’m not sure that I’m ready for.

Losing miserably on the top 10 front so far, these are 10 birds I’ve managed not to see at all one month into the big year. Whilst I’m probably ahead of Chris on total species seen, its the top 10 I really care about, ten birds that I would absolutely love to see. Its time for me to gain some birding ground.

My top 10 target birds are…

Dartford Warbler these scruffy little beauts are a New Forest specialty that I’ve managed to never see in my birding life. Favouring gorse and heather areas, I’m hoping that being local I can spot one at some point this year. Come warbler breeding season, if you can’t find me I’m probably out on a heath somewhere trying to catch a glimpse of one of these birds. Must brush up on bird song so I know what to listen for!

Dartford Warbler

Crossbill another must see. Whilst the variety I’ve chosen is the Common Crossbill, its easy to see how their cousins came to be called the Parrot Crossbill. The exotic looking male is a bright pinky red, and the female a murky parakeet green, and what makes them even more striking is their bills, which are quite literally crossed. Another New Forest species, fingers crossed I manage to track one down this year.

Common Crossbill


Hawfinch an amazing bird, with an incredibly powerful beak that can crack a cherry stone. Looking at these birds they appear such a hodge podge of colours and features with a huge, squat bill they almost look like an imaginary species. Several reported not far from home, so surely I can see one of these some time soon?

Hawfinch

Merlin falcons have to be my absolute favourite bird family, and what’s not to love? Streamlined, agile, speedy and full of personality, any falcon sighting brightens my day. Merlin is a species that I’ve never seen and these diminuitive birds live up to their family reputation. This is the species I’ve come closest to seeing so far, with 2 probable sightings I’m unable to count as I’ve not been 100% sure. Predominantly a winter visitor, I’d better get a move on if I want to see one before spring arrives and they move on.

Merlin

Great Grey Shrike another winter visitor and New Forest local, I need to aim to have sight of a Shrike pretty soon to stand a chance of completing my top 10. Shrikes are also known as butcher birds and are known for spiking their catches (lizards, shrews, voles…) along their own stretch of thorn. For anyone who was a childhood fan of Farthing Wood, there was a particularly heart-breaking scene where a shrike catches a mouse (I think?!) and impales it on its branch spikes. Not a nice trait, but it is fascinating and pretty unique.

Great Grey Shrike


Marsh Harrier this is the bird on my list that I know the least about. They’ve often been reported when I’ve visited nature reserves but I’ve never managed to actually see one, which is why they appear on my list. Hopefully this year my luck will change.

Marsh Harrier

Ruff this one could be tricky. Apart from gulls, waders are the group of birds I find most difficult to ID. And if I don’t know what the bird I am looking at is, there’s no chance of me being able to count it on my year list. Ruffs are as cool as waders come- the males have a genuine neck ruff of feathers reminiscent of the collars worn back in the day by elizabethan nobility. Whilst these beautiful feathers are striking, they are only displayed by the males in breeding season when they hope to catch the eye of a single lady. Its highly unlikely I’ll see them in this guise, more likely I’ll come across one looking pretty indistinct, but its a bird I would love to see none the less.

Ruff (in display!)
Ruff (as normal)

Bearded Tit also known as Bearded Reedling, the male looks like men from oriental art with long, drooping black moustaches. Resident in reedbeds, these are only ever seen fleetingly and are notoriously difficult to spot amongst the reeds. This will be another case of learning the call so that I can track the bird down.

Bearded Tit


Little Owl aside from Long Eared, this is the other species of British owl that I have never seen. I’ve heard them call from my bedroom at night, so they can’t be far away but tracking them down could prove difficult. Owls are tricky at the best of times, so these miniature versions will be even more elusive.

Little Owl

Bullfinch these may be up there on my favourite birds of all time list. I have a soft spot for finches and buntings at the best of times, but the bold cherry pink and black of the male bullfinch is a sight to behold, and a bird that seems completely out of place in a soggy country such as ours.

Bullfinch

Whilst most of the birds on this list will be new spots for me, what compiling this list has made me realise is just how amazing a lot of British Birds really are and we have some stunning looking species that most people have never even heard of, let alone had sight of. Its all too easy to get excited about Parrots, Hummingbirds, Birds of Paradise or other brightly coloured feathered friends, but when you start to examine what is living close by, its just as exciting. Even the commonest birds are easily overlooked. Most of us will come across a Blue Tit on a fairly regular basis, but do we ever take the time to appreciate just how vivid its yellow and blue markings are? I don’t think we do, but its about time more of us did.

Here’s to February and beyond!

Jo