Tuesday, 30 December 2008
Having tried a number of locations closer to home where I have seen Willow Tit on previous years without any success I decided to head to Combe Wood for a final attempt before the year ended. After parking the car just off Church Lane I started the steep ascent up the public footpath towards Combe Wood, I remember thinking to myself that this location would be better served earlier in the day when we take part in the Berks bird race next year, it's a killer late in the day especially when you've been on the go since midnight.
At the top of the hill a covey of 9 Red-legged Partridges were seen running along the side of the fields near Summerton's Down and on the other side of the path 5 Stock Doves flew over Wadsmere Down. Continuing along the path to Combe Wood a Nuthatch could be heard calling and I soon came across a party of 14 Long-tailed Tits flitting their way through the wood. I walked slowly down the path attempting my Marsh Tit "pitchoo" call hoping that something might reply, I've had plenty of practice with the Marsh Tits in our garden and with good success I hasten to add. It didn't take long before I heard a Marsh Tit reply and answering it's call I waited for it's reply, it didn't call but instead appeared in a tree just off the path and sat checking me over giving me a nice view, as it flitted back in to the woods another bird called further down the path but this time it was the harsh calls of the Willow Tit which was perched in the trees at the edge of the path. I watched as it made it's way through the trees and at one point could hear another calling nearby, it stayed in view for a good 5 minutes before I lost sight of it in the woods.
Added To My year List.
228. Willow Tit
Monday, 29 December 2008
After parking the car I walked along the path to the reserve, it was rather chilly and I was certainly pleased I'd brought my hat and gloves and making my way to the bench next to the wardens hut I prepared myself for a long wait. I stood quietly listening for any bird calls and watched as a Robin came flying down to where I was standing, it was so tame I wondered if visitors to the reserve had been feeding it from their packed lunches, unfortunately it wasn't going to get anything off me as I didn't have anything to give it. It seemed quite content digging around under the leaves so I sat down and watched it, about 5 minutes passed and I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera when a small flock of birds flew across the tree tops. They continued over the clearing and landed in the tops of some Alder trees not more than 20ft away which gave me a good chance of standing up without scaring them. When I managed to get the scope on them I could see that it was a flock of Lesser Redpoll, hanging upside down they busily stripped the seeds from branches and within a couple of minutes more birds arrived to join them. The wood was empty and I stood alone watching these Finches going about their business, their metallic contact calls could be heard clearly and brought the silence of the wood to life. My little Robin friend looked a bit peeved that the Redpolls were now attracting my gaze and he slowly hopped towards me tilting his head every so often to check the woodland floor for food, I didn't have the heart to tell him the ground was frozen and he could be waiting sometime!.
The Redpolls continued to feed in the trees above me and I managed to count 25+ before they took to the air, they circled the tree tops forming a tight group and disappeared from view further in to the wood. I was know feeling a bit cold and decided to have a walk around the areas that the Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers have been reported from, with the trees having shed their leaves it makes it slightly easier to find this tree canopy hugging Woodpecker so saying goodbye to the Robin I headed off down the path. At the bottom of the main track a small pond often draws birds in to drink and stopping to watch a Wren do exactly this I heard the Lesser Redpolls approaching again, over they went dropping back in to the trees by the wardens hut. I then spotted another small flock of birds flying in to the trees by the pond and was soon watching a flock of 15 or so Siskin feeding in the alders, I could hear more but just couldn't see them and waited to see if they would show themselves. I'd been in the wood for about 3 hours now and my feet were starting to get numb, I was just starting to dream of my car heater when all of a sudden I heard a faint rapid and feeble drumming sound coming from along the lower main path leading back to the entrance, I grabbed my scope and walked quickly along the path stopping at where I believed the sound to be coming from. I waited for about 10 minutes with not a bird in sight and was about to give up when I spotted a family walking through the woods with their dogs, they were obviously being quite loud as they walked through the wood and approaching the centre of the woodland they flushed a small bird from the trees, it called with a sharp and short "kick" alarm call and then proceeded to fly through the woods with a deep undulating flight, I managed to see this tiny bird immediately and spotted the red head and white horizontal barring across it's back and wings but it didn't stop and flew off in the direction of the wardens hut. It was a brief view of a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and sadly that was the best it was going to get as by now frostbite seemed to be setting in and I was just too cold to go and look for it. I retreated to the warmth of the my car and headed for home.
Back in August of 2005 I was extremely lucky to find a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker clinging to a dead tree branch on my local patch. I was attempting to digiscope Spotted Flycatchers at Aston near Hambleden Lock on the Berks/Bucks border when a passing dog walker allowed his dog to run straight in to the bushes flushing everything in sight, trying to resist the urge to throw both the dog and his owner in to the nearby backwater I glanced skywards and noticed a small bird clinging to the side of a dead tree trunk. With the blue sky behind this small bird it was difficult at first to see exactly what it was and it wasn't until I viewed it through my binoculars did I realise it was a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. It remained motionless on the tree giving me time to grab my scope and camera and snap off a few shots. It must have stayed in view for at least 10 minutes and at one point was joined in the tree by a Chaffinch giving a good size comparison. Despite searching most evenings throughout the summer of 2005 I saw it only once again in late August and have had no luck on any of my return visits. Earlier in December 2008 I had returned to Hambleden Lock and Aston hoping that I might have a spot of luck and find it again but sadly was unsuccessful.
Added To My Year List.
227. Lesser-spotted Woodpecker
Saturday, 27 December 2008
Tuesday morning soon came round and after spending the previous evening playing Wii I was nursing a few aches and strains. It was a brisk clear morning with no wind so although it was chilly it was still pleasant. The garden at the barn hosted many of the common species of garden birds including Blue & Great Tit, Robin, Goldfinch, Chaffinch & Greenfinch and an occasional male Bullfinch. A pair of Blackbirds and a lone Redwing that spent the week feeding on a number of berry bushes around the garden, it was also a pleasing sight to see a small group of House Sparrows that could often be seen and heard in the perimeter hedgerows. Wood Pigeon, Starling, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw and Rooks were all common sightings as they passed overhead commuting from one field to another as were Black-headed and Herring Gull. From the living room window of the barn I could see the South Pool creek, this is a channel of water that starts from the English channel and dissects Bolt Head and Prawle point and makes it's way inland past Salcombe and on towards Kingsbridge. Once I had set up my scope I had great views across the low tide mud flats, an obvious white blob sat the water pools turned out to be an Little egret and I was pleased to see a number of waders feeding in the mud. As breakfast was being cooked I headed out to the wood shed to stock up on logs for the evening fire, after filling the wood basket I headed back to the barn hearing a familiar "kronking" sound coming across hills, I put the basket down and looked across the hills seeing nothing but passing wood pigeons and by the time I had grabbed my binoculars from inside the calls had stopped.
Snowy Owl-Zennor, Cornwall. Dec 24th 2008
I was disappointed not to be able to get any reasonable photos but to see this fantastic bird on Christmas Eve will live in the memory forever. My late father always told me about the bird he went to see in Suffolk 2001 and what a fantastic bird they are, I couldn't agree more. Snowy Owl sightings in England are very rare with only a few records on the mainland since 1990-91, they are slighter smaller than the eagle owl and their white plumage helps to camouflage them on their favoured habitats which are usually cold and snow covered tundra and grasslands in the Arctic circle. Their diet includes a varied selection of foods which includes Lemmings, Mice, Voles, Rabbits and Hares but because of their agility in flight they can also catch Ducks, Geese and even Ptarmigan in midair. Adult males have a pure white appearance where females have a distinct dark barring across their chest, body and wings. Many people would probably recognise "Hedwig" the magical owl from the Harry Potter films which is a Snowy Owl and seeing one in the wild is certainly a magical experience.
Christmas Day started rather eventfully, other than the obvious delivery from father Christmas overnight I had 2 great early morning sightings. I headed off downstairs with the log basket and made my way outside to the woodshed on my early morning, the temperature had dropped and it was certainly cold, the air was fresh and crisp and my breath lingered long in the air. The Redwing was still sat in the garden eyeing up the berries that a male Blackbird was devouring as quickly as he could, a small flock of goldfinches were chattering noisily amongst themselves from the top of a neighbouring tree and the chirping of House Sparrows could be heard coming from a Beech hedge in the garden. After loading the log basket I made my way back to the barn, suddenly hearing a bird of prey calling I dropped the basket and looked skyward, before I'd even had chance to take a quick panoramic 360 degree look a Peregrine flew straight overhead clutching a Wood Pigeon in it's claws, by it's size I could tell it was a female and it looked like it was in top condition, no doubt feeding on many of the Wood Pigeons that inhabit the Devon countryside. I watched as it flew over me chased by a dozen or so Jackdaws until it disappeared amongst the backdrop of distant hills. I bent down to pick up the log basket only to hear a "Kronking" sound from above, looking above me I watched as a pair of 'Ravens tumbled across through the sky playfully interacting with each other. This was obviously the pair I had seen nearby on previous days but unlike earlier sightings they were now overhead and what almost felt like touching distance.
Before we tucked into the Christmas dinner we decided that a family walk would be a good start to events and after suggesting Prawle Point we headed off. We arrived at Prawle point and headed off along the coastal path, it wasn't long before a male Stonechat was seen perched on the gorse adjacent to the path, it remained perched until we approached and then only flew a few feet along the pathway to another suitable perching point in the gorse. As the rest of the family continued along the path I took the opportunity to wander down to the rocky outcrop on the edge of the shoreline. Apart from the obvious Herring, Lesser B-B & Great B-B Gulls were Oystercatchers and a single Redshank. I scanned the rocks intensely and picked up on 3 small birds that were flitting from one rock to another, after eventually coming to rest I could identify them as Rock Pipits and had some really good views of them as they strutted around the outcrop. At sea 3 male and 2 female Eider slowly drifted west but relocating them became difficult as they disappeared behind braking waves, both Gannet and Shag were seen passing west and a lone Shag remained feeding just offshore. Continuing along the coastal path the calls of Curlew could be heard and within seconds 2 flew west towards the rock outcrop and then out of sight behind rocks on the shoreline. I moved down to the edge of the rocks to get a better view finding the 2 Curlews sat on the edge of the rocks preening their wing feathers with a single Redshank sleeping nearby, my views were partly obscured by rocks but I could just make out the rear end of a wader next to the redshank. I carefully and stealthily inched my way to a better viewing point and scanned round the rocks, there sitting next to the sleeping redshank were 2 Purple Sandpipers, they sat motionless facing in to the wind coming in from the sea until an Oystercatcher walking round the rocks saw me and started calling loudly. After everything took flight I made my way back along the coastal path spotting a Peregrine cruising over the hill tops as I went, most of the nearby Gulls soon took flight and ushered the Peregrine inland and out of sight.
Heading back along the coastal path towards Prawle Point and the car park we stopped next to the grazing pens, many of which have stubble in them. A female Cirl Bunting appeared perched in the gorse shortly followed by a male to end off a nice walk along the coastal path.
Before Christmas dinner started I took the opportunity to have a quick look around the South Pool creek, the tide was higher than the first time I had visited and other than a Little Egret and a calling Kingfisher it was very quiet. I decided to walk along the edge of the creek and back along a public footpath finding a Goldcrest flitting through ivy on a tree branch, continuing along the path it wasn't long before I heard the resident Ravens calling again and watched as they passed overhead with both Jackdaw and Crow in hot pursuit. I managed a short video clip as they departed over the hill and out of sight.
Boxing day greeted us with an even colder day, the sun did it's best to show itself from time to time and a walk along the beach at Torcross was windswept to say the least. There were few birds to be seen except Gannet, Cormorant and a few Gulls.
Added To My Year List.
223. Snowy Owl (Zennor, Cornwall)*
Added To My Life List
309. Cirl Bunting
310. Snowy Owl
Saturday, 20 December 2008
As well as the usual tit's and finches we have been lucky enough to watch regular visits from Bullfinches, in Autumn we watched them from the living room windows as they fed on Honeysuckle berries and as the temperature has dropped we have been seeing them feeding on sunflower hearts from the bird feeders. In 2007 we witnessed a party of 6 birds visiting the garden and so far this year(2008) we have seen up to 5 birds in the garden. They seem to be doing quite well in this area maybe due to the hedgerows and orchards that a in the area, beautiful bird to see and they certainly brighten the dull winter days.
A Grey Heron was an unusual and added bonus for my garden list in mid-December, there are no large expanses of water in this area so I can only think that it was heading to somebody's pond as it headed south west over the garden. A pair of Pied Wagtails have returned as they do most winters often being seen on the roof tops. At least 6 Blackbirds are in the area defending their own small areas of hedgerow along Shogmoor Lane and despite only a small amount of Redwings being present the Blackbirds seem to have a monotony on most of the food rich environments. The local corvids are certainly on the look out for any free meals going and as soon as I've thrown out any left overs they are descending in to the garden, the record for a torn up sliced loaf of bread stands at 4 minutes 27 seconds mainly taken by Jackdaw and Magpie, the Crows and Rooks seem to get out numbered by the Jackdaws and the Magpies simply take advantage by grabbing as much as they can before retreating to a safe place to eat what they have taken. Both Little and Tawny Owl are present most days around the garden with the Little Owls already seemingly spending a lot of time together as a pair. Tawny Owls on the other hand can be heard calling at night obviously declaring their territory and a few occasions have been seen perched in the trees around the garden.
I presume that the local Kestrel population in the area has done quite well this year as I very rarely see less than 2 or 3 perched on telegraph poles and the surrounding country roads. A number of birds seem to favour certain posts and can almost be guaranteed to be seen, there is a good population of voles and mice around which will hopefully sustain their diet.
No signs of Redpoll, Brambling or Siskin in the area yet.
Monday, 15 December 2008
The pit contained good numbers of Wildfowl which included Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Pochard, Wigeon, Shoveler, Common Teal, Gadwall, Mallard and Tufted Duck. A large gathering of 150+ Black-headed Gulls were also present.
After viewing the Drayton road pit for sometime I still hadn't located the Long-tailed Duck, I was beginning to think that it had left and decided to take one more view of the pit from another viewpoint. I found a suitable gap and again scanned from one end of the pit to the other without any success, suddenly I was alerted to a few Black-headed Gulls squabbling amongst themselves and closer inspection showed that they were actually hassling the juvenile Long-tailed Duck. It was continually diving for fairly long periods and being hassled by the Gulls each time it returned to the waters surface, this continued for over 10 minutes with the Long-tailed Duck doing it's best to avoid detection by surfacing further away from where it dived.
Added To My Year List.
221. Long-tailed Duck
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Entering the hide I was greeted with a familiar face, Berkshire Bird Photographer Jerry O'Brien (www.birdsofberkshire.co.uk) set up with his camera. The American Wigeon had disappeared behind one of the Willow tree islands on the far bank(from the hide) and we managed to have a quick chat about birds and photos. Eventually the American Wigeon reappeared on the far bank and began to swim around the waters edge. It remained on the far side of the water giving decent but distant views, the white/cream crown and dark face patch were both very visible. It was too dark and too distant to even try digiscoping the Wigeon but Jerry managed to capture a few shots that can be seen here
Other birds of interest present were Little Egret and Yellow-legged Gull.
Another fantastic find by local birder Ken Moore.
Added To My Year List
220. American Wigeon
Added To My Life List
308. American Wigeon
Thursday, 4 December 2008
The Falklands and South Georgia by Dickie Duckett FRPS
27th January 2009, 8pm - 10pm £2 Entry
Tuesdays from Sept to May
8:00pm - 10:00pm
For more information phone
Tuc on 0781 0600 572
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) - Reed, Herts & Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) - The Lodge, Sandy, Beds. 19th November 2008.
We arrived north of Reed Village, Herts. and soon found ourselves at Hatchpen Farm, after spotting 2 Red Kites drifting over the fields we parked in the lay-by at the entrance to the farm. We walked up the road to a small gathering of people who were viewing the fields towards the A10 who informed us the Rough-legged Buzzard had drifted over the fields to the west side of the A10 and then had dropped down out of sight, we were directed to a church spire in the distance and told that it was last seen in that area. Everybody scanned the fields and suddenly somebody cried "it's up", a brief view was given before the bird dropped down out of sight but within seconds it appeared drifting slowly over the fields again. It flew across the fields gaining height as it went which gave good views of both the under and upperwings, the white tail and broad tail band clear to see as well as the dark belly, a very clean and fresh looking juvenile/sub adult bird. We all watched it as it continued to drift over the fields before briefly hovering and then dropping out of sight, it remained out of sight for 20 or so minutes before showing briefly again as it drifted along a brow of a hill on the west side of the A10 and again it dropped down out of sight. We waited for another 30 minutes without any further sightings and decided to head off to Sandy to find the Waxwings. By the time we left we had seen 5 birds of prey which included of Red Kite, Rough-legged buzzard, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk which was circling over the lay-by.
As we neared my home I mentioned to Roy that many of the local herds of Deer could be crossing the country lanes and to be careful, they have a tendency to walk straight out in front of you just when you least expect it, as we turned the next corner we came face to face with a herd of Fallow Deer crossing the lane in front of us. Great views as they passed a metre in front of the car and we couldn't have timed it better.
Added To My Year List.
217. Rough-legged Buzzard
Added To My Life List.
307. Rough-legged Buzzard
Sunday, 9 November 2008
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) - Day's Lock, Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxon & Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer) Farmoor Reservoir, Oxon. 9th Novembr 2008.
Having been to Days Lock before I knew where to go and after parking the car I headed off over the River Thames and towards the scrape. By now it had started to rain and as I arrived at a small gap in the bushes my hopes of digiscoping the Egret diminished, I viewed out across the fields and zooming in on the cattle that were grazing in the field I soon spotted the Cattle Egret feeding beneath them, it soon was lost to sight behind some of the cattle that were now sitting down in the field. I viewed the rest of the scrape whilst waiting for the Egret to reappear, 100+ Greylag and 10 Canada Geese were present in the field, a single Egyptian Goose, 9 Cormorant, Wigeon & Teal present on the pools and good numbers of Lapwing dotted around the fields and pools.
I then headed along the footpath that runs alongside the scrape to get a closer view of the Cattle Egret and as I did so the rain stopped and the sun finally came out, as I made my way along the path I noticed the cattle herd and Egret heading across the field towards where I was walking to. Three people were watching the Cattle Egret from the footpath and within a few minutes of my arrival the bird was in full view just in front of us. I quickly got my camera out and took a few photos, the sun was shining and the bird was showing incredibly well, much better than my views of the bird at East Lavant that disappeared behind a hedge just as I got my camera out!
Reaching the south-east corner I finally found the Great Northern Diver some 50ft away from the edge of the basin, I watched it as it fed in the vicinity of the southern most point of the reservoir often diving for long periods. There was no way I could even attempt a photo of this bird with the weather so bad so I decided to film it each time it surfaced after diving for food, I tried to estimate it's surface point as I walked north along the east side of the F2 reservoir, unsuccessfully I have to add as it always surfaced just in front of me. It certainly made the walk back to the car more bearable in soaking wet clothes and I left it still fishing near the water tower on the F2 reservoir. It was great to see despite the weather and it means that I have managed to see all the common Divers in one year for the first time.
Added To My Year List.
215. Great Northern Diver
Both videos can be watched in high quality on my YouTube channel here, simply select the video clip and then click on "watch in high quality" under the video player screen.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
More photos and a short video of the American Green Heron at West Hythe, Kent. The video can be watched in high quality on my YouTube channel here, simply select the video clip and then click on "watch in high quality" under the video player screen.
American Green Heron Video