Saturday, May 26, 2012

Best day of the year?

What day is the best day of the year? Well it would have to be spring time when the flowers are out, the trees are in bloom, and the leaves are at their brightest green, so that pretty much has to be May. This year as we all know it has been cold and wet, but that does mean that as soon as the sun comes out all the flowers have burst into bloom at the same time.

Today the sun was shining, and the trees and plants were all in bloom. Soon the blossom will disappear and the buttercups will fade, so in all probability the best day this year is today.

Here's Pishiobury Park at its absolute finest.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Not much around

Morning visit to Lodmoor. Overcast, drizzle, and no obvious migrants. I lined up to next to a fellow birder in the bandstand and casually mentioned that there wasn't much around. "Not Much Around !?!". Oh God I've just inadvertently hit his pet subject. "Well there's three Marsh Harriers up over the back" yes there was - my mistake not looking - "and large numbers of hirundines out there" yes I'd spotted those; some nice Sand Martins and Swallows resting on brambles, and masses of Swifts. "And there's a beautiful summer plumage Great Northern Diver in the bay. Seems to me there's quite a lot around!" I took my queue and went off to the bay. There was indeed a glorious Great Northern Diver relaxing in the bay, and 4 Common Scoter in the bay too, one male and three females.

So that was me told. Always something to see. Even so, a Whimbrel, or a Whinchat, would have been nice.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Local Lapwings

spare time has been at a premium recently, but I had a spare hour and went to a new site for me, a newish fishing pit dug out of the local farmland just south of Bishop's Stortford. I came away with Little Ringed Plover, a few Yellow Wagtails, and a few pairs of Lapwings and a small flock of Linnets. On the water were Tufted Ducks, Canada Geese, and Mallards. In the water were some enormous Carp thrashing around at the shallow end - well it is a fishing pit. The sunshine tempted out Peacock butterly and an Orange Tip. Just by the edge was an egg and some bloodied feathers. I think both are from Lapwing. There's some shots below.
Update: the egg is Red-Legged Partridge and the feathers Wood Pigeon. Thanks for the update Mike!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

March, and more local

March has been and gone. A few winter visitors in the Park and elsewhere soon disappeared, although a healthy flock of Yellowhammers remained near the chaff dump just above the Scrape. April has brought Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, and now Blackcaps. So all in all pretty dull, and now I'm gainfully employed again likely to remain that way.

But not so fast! D#2, who is now 14, has taken to going for walks along the river as dusk approaches. Like the rest of my family, he steadfastly regards any interest in nature as some kind of personality disorder, to be tolerated but not encouraged, but is happy for me to accompany him on his walks. He pronounces on religion, politics, and the modern world with the kind of wisdom and certainty that only a fourteen year old can have, whilst I keep an eye and an ear out for birds.

And slowly but surely we are seeing wildlife. From a dead pike floating down the river to a couple of Muntjac, a pair of foxes playing in a field, and a Barn Owl seen close to a couple of times. Yesterday in near darkness we had a couple of bats swooping up from the river, and I assume from size and the nearness to water that they were Dubenton's bats.

And D#2 is leading the way in spotting these sightings. His young eyes see things before I do, and from the tone of his voice he's quite excited to see them before he remembers himself and feigns indifference.

So quite unexpectedly, its been quite good recently.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Not Seething

Its been quiet on the patch recently. Chiffchaffs have come through in strength over the last week, and some Gadwall have turned up on the scrape, together with 3 Snipe up to 50 Teal which most of the time hide in the waterlogged vegetation. There's been nice regular sightings of Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, both big peckers etc, but not much of note apart from Saturday when there was a Willow Warbler, 2 Kingfisher, a Red Kite, and 9 Snipe. You'd think I'd be delighted, but I didn't see them. Instead local birder Mike popped down and ticked them all.

Lesser men than myself would be quietly seething, kicking the dogs, snapping at children, and generally going quietly or even loudly mad. I've been down there practically every day in March and at least every week for over a year, and Mike pops down and sees two birds I haven't seen there at all. But fortunately I remain serene, and have resisted the temptation to go all Barry Spence. Congratulations Mike. I'm happy for you. Please feel free to come down again and see birds I haven't seen here before. Dogs, you can come out now.

Some element of birding karma was restored on Sunday when driving D#3 to swimming in Stortford I drove under a Red Kite, just coming from the direction of another birder's house in Thorley.

Out again today. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and it was a day for sitting on top of a tree and singing (that's birds, obviously, not me). Chiffs everywhere, a few Linnets, and a Peacock (butterfly)

Thursday, March 01, 2012

First day of the new Birding Year

Pishiobury Park 1st March

So, a new birding year! I walked round the periphery of Pishiobury Park trying to note every bird I saw. The results are below. On the Eastern edge of the Park at the bottom of the hill is a boggy wood with many Willows and Alders called, I believe, the Osier bed.

Great-Spotted Woodpecker 1
Wood Pigeon uncounted – a few tens
Stock Dove – 4
Magpie – 7 (of which 2 were seen in the Osier bed - 2 ob)
Jackdaw – 1 ob
Carrion Crow – 4 (2 ob)
Nuthatch – 1 heard at the N end
Blackbird - 3
Redwing – c20 ob
Robin – 11 (2 ob)
Wren - 2
Great Tit – 6 (2 ob)
Long-tailed tit - 4
Blue Tit – 10 (1 ob)
Chaffinch – 7 (3 ob)
Goldfinch – 5 (1 ob)
Siskin – 7ob
Greenfinch - 7
House Sparrow - 8
Goldcrest - 1

The most notable sighting to my eyes is the 11 Robins. Mostly these were singing birds, so it may be say 10 pairs in the park.

Other birds seen were 29 Teal and a male Shoveler on the Scrape, and 3 Common Buzzard soaring over a distant wood near Churchgate Street. And a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was out.

It was warm and bright. Blossom was emerging and spring seems to be poised to arrive. I feel the lists compiled today, at the point when bird populations are at their lowest and local birds are starting to contemplate breeding, serves as a baseline. I’m more than happy to have started my new year today.

February Round-up

Apart from the Weymouth trip at half-term, local birding dominated.

A cold spell in the middle of the month saw a cold weather movement described in a previous post. Fieldfares were everywhere for a couple of weeks, although it was possibly the same ones trying desperately to find some food.

By the end of the month the scrape finally attracted some ducks - c20 Teal and 3 Shoveler. A flock of Siskin has been sporadic in Pishiobury Park, but I have noticed that they have periods of chatter, and then fall quite, so perhaps they have been there all the time and I don't notice them when they are quiet. Otherwise the rich local population of common birds – 2x woodpeckers, Jay, Nuthatch, Common Buzzard, etc –has been much in evidence. A pair of Grey Wagtails were on the brook at the bottom of the house towards the end of the month.

Otherwise, the only birding trip was to see the Short-Eared Owls that turned up at Felsted just 10 miles to the east. Iwent over on spec just intending to drive round Felsted looking for a likely spot. After all, Felsted is a school, a pub and some houses. How hard could it be?

Well luckily for me, not very hard. The key was to be found by a fellow birder in the wrong area (by the river) and taken to the right area (just east of the centre of the village), so I am in debt to whoever it was - many thanks! I saw three of the beauties, including one perched in a bush at a nice scope-filling distance, although there were many more recorded by locals during the period before and after.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

New Year

Every year bright and early on 1st January birders all over the country start their year list. From dawn, every new call and sound, every bird flying across the horizon, is recorded diligently on the new list. Then often out to a full range of birding sites to try and hit the magic 100 on 1st Jan.

There’s some snags with this. It’s a bit anti-social as family and friends are often around enjoying the break. There’s quite a good chance of being drunk or hungover. And the weather isn’t often ideal for charging round the country – black ice and daylight for about an hour a day. Usually I pass up the opportunity.

More significantly, is this the right time to start the birding year? Other calendars don’t start on the 1st Jan. The financial year starts on 5th April. And the academic year starts variably in September or October. There’s no reason why 1st Jan should mark the start of the birding year. So I got thinking what the most sensible date to start the birding year should be?

We know that finding a clean date is impossible, but the 1st of Jan is smack bang in the middle of a season. Cold snaps can cause influxes and these may occur either side of the new year divide. Winter is split across two recording periods for no good birding reason. We know the simple birding seasons of migration, breeding, migration back, and wintering are not neat activities with clear start and end dates. There’s always overlap, whether its in June when those waders on the local scrape might be late migrating north, or early migrating back, and then in winter birds move around due to cold spells. But if there is such a thing as a year end it would surely be at the end of winter. The new breeding year is set to start and the whole business of migration is about to start again.

My first guess was 14th Feb. A notable date, and conveniently allows some or all of Feb half term to fall in the new year. But the reality of winter is that the last week of Jan and the first two weeks of Feb are often the coldest, so we could, as this year, be in the middle of a cold snap with all sorts of birds still moving around. So our year-end should occur after this. From the other end, the spring equinox date of 21st March is a candidate; equality of daylight and night with a proper recognised start of spring ,but some migrants have already arrived at this time so this is too late. We need to be clear of any significant migrants turning up.

I’ve chosen 1st March. It’s a reasonably clear date, and its in a clear space unlikely to be in the middle of major cold-weather movements, and well before the spring migration has started. I’m looking forward to starting the new year this week. Just a few weeks before it starts to fill up with spring migrants, and when we get to the middle of winter I can still keep all the birds form a single season on one list.

A couple of weeks ago the weather was like the shots below. But today its warm. Blossom is beginning to appear. From reports around the country the Lapwings and Curlews are back on the moors, and Herons are nesting in Regents Park. Spring is almost here. Time for a new start, a new year, and a new list.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Half Term

Yes its half term, so its a few days in Weymouth again. There are Hume’s Warbler, and a Richard’s Pipit on the fleet, an elusive Iceland Gull and a Glossy Ibis. I saw none of them, but had one of the best half-terms I’ve had. Mainly due to a glorious quarter hour this morning at Lodmoor.

I was at the postbox on Beachdown Way watching a Marsh Harrier quartering the reeds. It had a pop at something, and for a moment I thought it was an owl, but through the scope it was obviously a Bittern. I spent the next fifteen minutes with it filling the frame. It was stationary mainly, perched on top of some compacted reed stems, stretching its neck, looking around and occasionally frilling up its neck. Then, a second bird appeared on the edge of the reeds and pecked around for a while before heading back into the reeds.

It’s amazing what a lift a sighting like that gives you. I practically floated round the rest of the reserve. It’s only the second sighting I’ve had in Weymouth in eight years of coming down regularly, and completely unexpected to see these birds wandering around. Perhaps it’s a regular spot - I’ll keep checking. If you go, stand by the Postbox on Beachdown Way, look towards the rubbish disposal site, and then look at the reeds between the two large areas of water between you and the dump.

Otherwise: C200 Lapwings was a reserve record for me, 10 Dunlin, c10 Wigeon, a Water Pipit, and offshore a Great Northern Diver. A male Pintail was at Radipole, and on the Fleet from the bridging camp on 14th were 3 Avocets, 6 Goldeneye, plenty of Mergansers, Curlews, Oyk’s and Brent Geese, and Mediterranean Gulls in their hundreds. And a Stonechat.

It’s odd what an impression you get of a place on a first visit. When I started watching Lodmoor in winter 2003 there was a Peregrine that sat on the central concrete block and terrorised the birds, and Stonechats were regular around the reserve. I assumed every winter was like that, but Peregrine is a scarce sighting for me here since and Stonechats come and go.

Finally some pictures from Radipole.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Can we have our birds back please?

The snow and continental freeze has brought all sorts of unusual birds to nearby areas, including a few Short-Eared Owls just east of the area . Sadly nothing here today. I took a trudge round the Stort valley south of Sawbo with camera to record what few birds there are. Can we have our missing birds back please?

The scrape is full (good!) but frozen (bad!). A couple of Snipe burst out of ditches. Lots of Wood Pigeons, Rooks and Jackdaws. But some noticeable absences; no Yellowhammers or Reed Buntings, the Kestrels have absconded, temporarily I hope. There were a couple of Meadow Pipits. The Fieldfares that have invaded the area were flying manically around. There were a few Song Thrushes around - I'm not sure if they are immigrants or just our normal birds being a bit more obvious.

On Sunday there was a flock of 70 Lapwing over the park. I thought I heard one today, but in the turned out to be just a bronchitic Fieldfare.

The river has half frozen. There were a couple of strange holes. Like giant spiders have crashed through the ice. Perhaps they will emerge in the spring to savage the area.

Still, its just about the end of this birding year, and the new one will start soon, so perhaps its appropriate that the patch is fairly barren at the moment.

End of the year? What? Well it is according to my calendar. I'll post on that soon.

Commonly Spotted Orchids

We are fortunate in the UK in that the commonest orchids are also amongst the most beautiful. I spent a morning photographing some on the lo...