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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Catch up #2- February 2012

Moving swiftly on to February, the month started with a planned trip to Slimbridge being postponed due to snow. Twice.

Undeterred, we continued to bird but kept things local including this snowy walk. Gosh, I love winter.

Somehow, through the blog our birdy obsession became contagious and my friend Sarah and I (go team Jo!) made a little trip over to Pulborough Brooks in Sussex where (I think) she caught the bug. I also got up close and personal with a Water Rail, but that’s a story that has already been covered…

We FINALLY made it, third time lucky, to WWT SLimbridge where we purchased some shiny new binoculars, I got very excited about grazing flocks of Wigeon (correct plural for a group of Wigeon anyone?), we absolutely froze in the Zeiss hide where every bird seemed to elude us (seriously, seriously quiet), but the day was made better by a good old fashioned Eider Duck. Happy days.

In case you don’t know, Eiders have THE best noise EVER. Seriously. If you don’t know, you can listen here if you can stand the musical soundtrack. Just don’t waste away too many hours imitating that amazing ooooohhhhhh. But if you do, a big high five and welcome to mine and Chris’s crazy world. Also whilst searching for good Eider noises the RSPB website has informed me that they are the UK’s heaviest duck and also ‘highly gregarious’. What a description.

February also saw us make a trip to the Hawk Conservancy for Chris to enjoy his birrthday pressie of an Owl Experience where he got to fly all sorts of owls. Whilst he was off having lots of Owl related fun, I spent my time around the park seeing the other residents, like the young Bald Eagle above. What a stare. He also looks like he has very angry yellow eyebrows, but that might just be me.

And, not forgetting that more common garden birds can be just as beautiful. Blackbirds are my ABSOLUTE favourite bird of all time. I could spend all day watching them. Just look at the Mrs B above, so much character and a lovely song to boot. I guess birds like this have been the common denominator throughout the year.

Hope you’re enjoying the catch up posts. I’m definitely enjoying recalling our year so far.

Jo x

Catch up #1- January 2012

So, in true birdy style, we kicked the year off with a real birding fest. Keen to out bird one another, we really got off to a flying (*excuse the pun*) start to 2012. My highlights:

Keen to out bird Chris, I started a new habit of getting out and walking more after work. This is something I really must get back into, its surprisingly refreshing of an evening. I had stuck really well to one of my new year’s resolutions (to get outside more) for about the first half of the year, then other parts of my life (like a big office move followed by new job applications, interviews and preparation) took over. Now I’m more settled this is something I fully intend to get back into as I love being outside so much. It really makes me feel at peace with myself and means I really start to appreciate the world around me more. I am so lucky to live near so many beautiful places but I just don’t get out and see them as much as I should.

I discovered a new love for one place in particular- Farlington Marshes. The photograph above does not do the view justice, even on a windy and cold day it is one of my favourite places to be. I love being by the sea, and being here in winter, full of waders and wildfowl, is a real treat. Simple pleasures.

My bird obsession took to new heights- I took this photo whilst walking to the Southampton offices at my old job!

A very successful trip to Blashford resulted in this amazing Bittern sighting, right in front of the hide. A definite highlight of the year so far.

Chris started to take the big year seriously by investing in a true birder’s essential (although I still prefer my pretty Rob Ryan notebook any day) a waterproof notebook!

I successfully (and without Chris…oops) twitched the infamous Spanish Sparrow in Calshot, Hampshire. Now as much as I think your usual House Sparrow is a real beaut and definitely under-rated, this guy was a stunner.

That’s my January highlights in a nutshell. Check the archives on the blog if you’re after further info.

Jo x

Finally..

Hello Dear Readers,

 

After what seems like a month since I last did a proper post (oops, it actually is!) I suppose that I best start with the number of birds that I managed to see in January as a few of you are now demanding to know. In total, between January 1st and January 31st I saw 76 unique species of bird. I won’t get too birdy on you all (mainly as I will get something wrong and be corrected by Jo!) but here are my favourite birds of January and a little bit of a reason why.

  1. Bittern – This is the top of my list purely because some people can go years without seeing one, and the first time I go into a hide at Blashford Lakes there is one staring up at me, not only that, but when everyone thought that it had disappeared I looked to my right and it was sat out in the open trying to swallow an entire fish. One man commented to me that I may as well go and “retire from birding” as views won’t come better than that. (I sometimes feel like he was right and maybe I have peaked too early in my birding career
  2. Kingfisher – This would have been an epic spot on any day, but the fact that it came at the end of a disappointing walk around Fishlake Meadows made it even better. I know that Jo was amazed by my reaction to seeing them (two in one, just like a bus) but it really was like seeing a bird from a different country. You can’t describe just how bright the colours are, I managed to see three that day in total, and one more since, and they are still brilliant every time you see one.
  3. Greenshank – For all you birders out there this won’t be a particularly special sighting, indeed for Jo I’m sure that it wasn’t great, but, what makes it special for me was that Jo and I really worked together to identify it using the Collins Book (my copy that Jo subsequently dropped in the mud) it must have taken us about 10 minutes to finally confirm it, but it left me really happy that we were able to use skills that before January I had never used.
  4. Bearded Tits – Not only a funny name (you all know it is!) they also look wicked, also seeing Jo so happy to see a bird that she has been looking for for years made it extra special. We have pictures of them and just how close we were eating our lunch to them made it amazing.

I didn’t think that I would have made it to such a number in one month, especially my first, but its mainly down to Jo helping me and dragging me out. I have a feeling that the subsequent months won’t be so spectacular, however there are over 10,000 left in the world for me to see so fingers crossed!

I went birding with my friend Greg at the start of February. He has new eyes (lasered) so in order to get his monies worth we thought it a good idea to see what he could see. It was a strange day; I am definitely not an expert, and I never managed to get to the bottom of what Greg thought of it, I probably endlessly annoyed him with my banging on about certain birds (my highlight was a goldcrest) and the hardest part was missing Jo. This may sound soppy, however it is purely because we have a very unique bird sense of humour, we personify them, its hard to explain, imagine Walk On The Wild Side, with just birds, if you are very unlucky some of you may get to experince this some day. However Greg was definitely not on the same wave length! (Sorry Greg)

I think that birding with different people will be something that I will need to get to used to over the course of 2012 (any volunteers living in Hampshire are eagerly encouraged!) but part of me just wants to make it a joint effort, hopefully when work quietens down I will get back into the competition, the new binocular purchases that we both made today should help,  I am just struggling with identifying the differences in certain types (especially waders) however I have finally nailed my tit identification  (stop sniggering at the back) so that is a step forward!

More about todays trip (to WWT Slimbridge) will follow when it isn’t so late.

 

Chris

 

 

 

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