Spring Has Sprung

Well Winter certainly feels a long time ago. Today Jo and I headed to the New Forest to try and see another one of my top ten list, the Firecrest. We thought that this would actually be pretty tough, as not only are they pretty small but they are normally only around from April onwards so we may have been too early.

In reality, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. I should probably add here that we prepared for finding them by playing what their birdsong sounded like using an app from the iTunes store. Misty (Jo’s family cat) got very interested in my iPad when the Firecrest came on and so it stuck in both of our heads.

We sat down at the first bench we came to and heard the same noise, so we just enjoyed the sun and waited for them to appear. When he did we got to see him for a good ten minutes, and they really are a damn funky bird. The Mohican just looks cool and if I was a bird then one of these would be near the top of my list.

In total we must have seen about 8 of them and I’m pretty sure that Jo enjoyed it as much as I did, I’m sure that she will blog on it later.

Also worth a mention is my first chiff chaff of the year (followed by another 6)

All in all a brilliant day especially with the weather, I hope you are all getting out and enjoying the weather, I’m still waiting for some of you to come birding with me/us (Toby!)

Chris

Once More into the breach

Well finally I can see light at the end of the tunnel at work and actually have some time to blog. This will only be a quick one though as its late.

Tomorrow will mark a massive step in my big year as I attempt to kick start my enthusiasm for it, something that has taken a bit of a knock with work stress and long hours. Jo is away this weekend and everyone who I would normally see is busy doing various exciting things, so the stars seem to be pointing me towards heading out for my very first solo birding adventure. The Collins is packed, boots are clean and I have the Junco in my sights (one Jo hasn’t seen)

Wish me luck readers!!

Chris

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:

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

 

 

 

New Forest Snow :)

So Chris and I had a 3 day weekend this week and had decided to spend the Friday on a rescheduled trip to WWT Slimbridge. Yet another overnight snowfall on Thursday* put paid to that plan, so instead we had a lovely relaxed day nearer to home, albeit with a lack of birding. It was just lovely to spend a chilled out day together ahead of a busier weekend.

Whilst I’ve been on 2 HOS walks this year, Chris has only come to the Red Kite walk, so I was actually really surprised when he agreed to accompany my Mum and I on a walk from Shatterford in the New Forest. Honestly, I’m convinced it was only because Chris didn’t want me to spot anything I’d not seen already without him seeing it too. Again, Chris and I brought the average age of the group down quite considerably, but I am still warmed every time I go on a group by how friendly everyone is and how willing they are to share their time and knowledge with others. I also quite like how excited other birders often are by having young, enthusiastic birders with them. Its really lovely to feel so welcomed.

The walk started brilliantly, with Goldcrest feeding in a pine by the car park which also had Treecreeper having breakfast on the trunk of the same tree. There must have been at least 6 Goldcrest which was lovely to see and some were even feeding on the ground, which no one in the group had seen before. Seeing such tiny birds on the ground right out in the open didn’t seem right as my mental image of Goldcrest is a tiny fluff-ball hiding amongst foliage and seeming altogether more shy and reclusive. A fantastic start to a lovely day. The walk continued with success- pairs of Crossbill (another of my Top 10) collecting nesting material and taking it up high in the pines for construction was gorgeous to watch, with one particular pair showing really well and deciding to have a pine cone snack for all to see on the only leaf free branch. My favourite moment of the morning was watching Mr Crossbill scoffing the seeds from a pine cone so greedily that he lost his grip and dropped the cone. I love slightly comical birding moments.

Once the Crossbills had given up putting on a show, we headed off for the main attraction of the walk- Great Grey Shrike. This bird is regularly reported in the area and had been seen the day before, so we set off towards its most recent haunt. Within seconds of arriving, the walk leader had spotted the Shrike high atop a distant shrub, surveying his surroundings and looking alert. Success. I never thought tracking down a bird would be so easy, but he was so far away I don’t think I’d ever have spotted him was it not for the more experienced birders there too. At this point Chris was seeming quite disheartened so telling him at this point that this was another of my Top 10 crossed off felt pretty mean, especially considering someone else had pointed it out to me. More Goldcrest appeared, bobbing along a pine hedge and again feeding on the ground- the cold must be leading them to desperate measures!

The walk later threw up a load more winter visitors and woodland species, with Siskin, Redwing,  and Mistle Thrush all seen before lunch. Chris had his birding moment of the day after lunch, when he spotted a lovely male Stonechat by himself, which I think he was pretty smug about. Although he didn’t say it, I could tell he felt excited for spotting something that the other birders hadn’t spied first. Adding Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and this time a pair of Stonechat before returning to the car rounded of a great day out in the forest. The residual snow and cold weather made for a bleak day on the moorland areas, but really highlighted just how beautiful the New Forest really is and reminded me how much I love spending my time outside when I can. Going back to the office on Monday morning was a bit of a come down after a wonderful day out and about.

Jo

*Note to self: next time I want snowfall, plan a trip to Slimbridge. The two seem to correlate at the moment!

Make Way For The King

Good Evening Readers,

I shall skip straight to Sunday as the rest of the week has been bird free due to a combination of work and also a trip to the Rugby yesterday to see my team get annihilated by Bath.

I am sure that some of you have seen that this weekend was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, this is where the RPSB ask people to take one hour out of their time to sit and record how many different birds appear. Jo and I did it first thing this morning and it wasn’t a huge success compared to the normal visitors to their garden but it was the afternoon that has really made my birding year (I seem to be saying that every week at the moment)

After Jo finished her tax return (tax doesn’t have to be taxing, just boring) we ventured out to Fishlake Meadows, which is basically a very large watery place where birds chill out. It had been a pretty quiet walk (getting used to seeing buzzards now) and we were on the way back to the car when I saw a blue flash with wings fly past me, quickly followed by another one. It took me at least 3 seconds to comprehend what I was looking at as it looked like something that would be more at home in the Amazon.

Jo also managed to pick up these blue flashes and shouted the word that I have never been so excited to hear…KINGFISHER!!

TWO!! I shouted back, as I saw them disappear behind a tree.

I was so shocked and happy to have seen them, they are yet another bird ticked off of my top ten list (to be published this week) and puts me 3-0 up on Team Jo!

I literally stood there amazed for a good ten minutes hoping to get another view of them to no avail. I just wanted to properly be able to see it in all its glory. When I sensed that Jo had had enough of waiting for me to stop smiling and checking two branches we decided to walk back to the car, it was starting to get dark when all of a sudden there was yet ANOTHER blue flash, I managed to track it until it disappeared behind another tree (next time I’m bringing my chainsaw).

So, as I sit here now, yesterday I hadn’t seen a single Kingfisher and now I’ve seen three, that’s two firsts in two weeks, I’m going to be hard pushed to keep this discovery rate up! They are really up there as a spectacle to see, they just look so out of place and so vibrant and actually (as sad as this sounds) I still cannot believe that I have seen some!

Oh, and Jo, please don’t feel bad for being 3-0 down, you have seen more species including the Spanish Sparrow and are clearly going to win, you just might lose the race to 10!

See you soon readers!

Chris

 

P.S Kingfishers are amazing to view and if you ever hear of any in your area I would highly recommend it, give me a shout and I’ll come and chop any trees down first* so your view is not obscured!

 

*This tree comment is purely in jest and Chris does not support deforestation, so please do not write in with your complaints

Once Bittern always amazed…

Decided that I better post whilst it is fresh in my memory,

This weekend was the best birding weekend I have ever had. ( I realise that this isn’t a massive claim as I have only had 3) As Jo has stated I was up for a nice early 7am wake up before getting to the lakes about 8am. In reality it involved a joint agreement to roll over and go back to sleep.

When we set off at 10ish we stopped off for Breakfast at Ringwood; an epic Bacon Roll with a Poached Egg which got me set and ready for the day ahead. We arrived at the lakes about 10.45 and settled down in the first hide that was occupied by two middle aged men muttering to each other with all the awkwardness of two teenagers on a first date. It was enjoyable to listen to but then I needed to settle down to some serious bird identification!

I must apologise to Jo here, I think that I must have asked her if the same type of bird was a ‘goldeneye’ at least 6 times, until I finally found one, the first bird off my top ten list! 1-0 Team Chris! We moved on to the various hides as the day went on but the main attraction was number two on my list the Bittern.

There was a buzz in the hide as soon as we walked in, people had just seen it, a moment of panic followed for me as firstly I didn’t understand where they had seen it, and secondly and much more troublesome… I had no idea what a Bittern looked like. Think needle in a haystack with other people who knew what they were doing and thats roughly were I was.

Then, we saw a rustling in the bush and a massive neck appeared. Its actually a pretty cool looking bird when its got its neck out. However I do think it looks a bit constipated when it is walking along, but that is probably just me!

What Jo neglected to mention is that it is me who spotted it for the second time. Everyone was looking at the spot where it had previously been, until I decided to look without the binoculars and spotted it stood in the open, the excitement that I shouted “THERE IT IS” still surprises me to this moment, however it sums up the genuine happiness that I got from seeing it again, its something that I never thought that I would experience when I started the year. Anyway, the result was that we all saw the Bittern looking in the reeds and pulling out a massive Perch which it took about 2 minutes to figure out just how to swallow the fish. The pictures that everyone took (except me) were very good, as you can see from Jo’s earlier post, there was even someone there who had birding business cards to hand out for when we wanted photos (i’m not even joking)

Anyway, the result was an excellent day with over 30 different species of birds seen, red polls and bramblings were a close two and three to the Bittern and the score currently stands at 2-0 to Team Chris.

In other news, I have purchased a waterproof notebook that apparently will even work underwater, not sure how true that is but i’ll give it a go. I will also be getting in to digiscoping soon, so some close up pics should follow. I can’t wait for next Sunday now, finally getting some proper enthusiasm, Greg, Jim and Toby watch out, your walks will follow soon!

Chris