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

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!

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