Friday, April 29, 2005

Breeding Bird Survey - Part Two

Went to do the first proper visit to my Breeding Bird Survey square this morning. It went quite well, I think. A couple of nice surprises were Mandarin and Nightingale, both on the northern transect (arable land/ancient woodland).

Other nice birds were several Yellowhammers, a pair of Reed Buntings, a singing Lesser Whitethroat, numerous Sky Larks and a Brown Hare.

It was very pleasant to be out and about in the early morning (started at 0620; finished at 0810), though I was a little bit wary of the heifers in one of the fields. They seemed to be in rather high spirits, galloping towards me and bucking joyfully... Just as well I had my clipboard with me in case I needed to fend them off.

Now I have to wait a month before I can do the next visit. I wonder how things will have changed by then?

photo taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Nene Washes

There was the mother of all rainstorms approaching but fortunately she passed by to the east.

Meadow Pipits were fairly obliging this evening, sitting on fenceposts.

A few Linnets bathed in the fresh puddles.

Post-bath preening took place nearby.

This male Reed Bunting was one of several to pose nicely.

I've finally joined the Shortie Club! This bird was hunting the meadows and stopped for a rest a little way ahead of me.

digiscoped photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Swan brawl

Ugly scenes on Overton Lake, Ferry Meadows CP, this lunchtime. A bit of argy bargy between two pairs of Mute Swans.

Meanwhile, this Great Crested Grebe made for the relative peace of Gunwade.

digiscoped photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Castor Hanglands NNR

Whitethroat. Welcome back, my trans-Sahara migrating friend!

Marsh Marigolds

A very smart purple-blue-green-black Pheasant

This Chaffinch was a bit coy, hiding behind a twig...


A truly splendid visit to Castor this morning. Two Grasshopper Warblers (the first of many) reeled in the scrub. A Nightingale started up - made me shudder and then grin like an idiot. Lesser Whitethroat rattled away in a hawthorn bush, but evaded capture on Compact Flash card... A Cuckoo sang, getting a bit over-excited and going into that crazy chuckling they do.

Many Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, but no Garden Warblers... can't be long now, surely?

digiscoped photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Breeding Bird Survey... Episode One

I've got a Breeding Bird Survey square to do this year (to read more about BBS, click here). Today, I walked the routes I'm going to take when I do my transect counts.

The survey squares are picked randomly so it's lucky that I've got a nice one in rural north-east Northamptonshire rather than an urban hell-hole in Peterborough... My two transects run east-west. The southern one runs through grazed pasture and arable land, while the northern one takes me through a bit of arable land and along the edge of some ancient woodland.

These are some of my co-surveyors

The purpose of today's visit, apart from checking that my routes (originally plotted on a map) are physically possible to do (i.e. no unexpected rivers, motorways or cliffs in the way), was to record the habitat along my transects. I haven't done it before so it was a matter of interpreting what I saw and learning to fill in the form.

I noted down the land use (mostly farmland, improved grassland or tilled land), the kinds of boundaries (hedges, with and without trees) and what was growing (or grazing).

The saving grace of my square is the woodland. Today I heard Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and Stock Dove for starters.

Now I'm ready to go ahead and do the proper counts - starting between 6am and 7am, once between mid-April and mid-May, and again between mid-May and late June. It'll probably be rubbish but I shall be proud to record that fact.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Thursday, April 21, 2005

No White Wags here...

Ferry Meadows Country Park, this evening

Everyone else is photographing White Wagtails (Motacilla alba alba, that is, as opposed to our Pied Wagtail M. a. yarrellii) these days, so I thought I'd be different.

Female Reed Bunting

Male Chaffinch

No subject too distant (not when they're this big, anyway...)

A stretch, then it's time to go feeding again... Common Terns (the left one is ringed).

The good news at the park tonight was that there are now cows on Heron Meadow, so now we'll know where to look for wagtails and pipits.

Talking of wagtails, I dropped in at Tesco on the way home. There's a Pied Wagtail roost there and birds congregate in the car-park before taking their places in small trees for the night (I counted more than 60 birds there last week).

As I made my way over to the centre, something caught my eye. In the shadow of a BMW, a love story was being played out.

was singing furiously.
stood still.
spread both his wings, almost like a wader doing a broken-wing display, stretched, bill thrust forward, shimmying towards her, being seductive.
She lunged towards him, her bill thrust forward, rebutting him. Go away.
retreated, in fear of receiving a peck.

The process was repeated two or three times until he obviously got bored with receiving the same response and flew off. I continued my journey towards Tesco, realising that someone had been staring at me staring at the wagtails. They probably thought I was going to nick the BMW's hubcaps...

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Barnack Hills & Holes NNR

Pasque Flower

I joined Brian Stone at Barnack this lunchtime (coincidentally meeting up with Kevan Wolstencroft and Howard Butler) with the aim of photographing Pasque Flowers - if they were out... It was great to see a brilliant display of flowers on many parts of the reserve; in fact, they were just about the only thing in flower, apart from Cowslips.

There's a bee inside this one!

Read more about Pasque Flowers here:

and Barnack Hills & Holes here:

Best bird of the visit was undoubtedly this splendid Red Kite, which floated regally in from the west, 'rudder' twisting from side to side, before giving us a magnificent fly-past directly overhead. It's easy to get blase about kites locally, now that they're present in such good numbers, but today's encounter reminded me what amazing things they are.

Didn't even need to digiscope it!

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Waxwings - virtually in my garden!

It's funny how things turn out... I'd just arrived back from twitching the Ring-necked Duck at Grafham Water (see below), opened the car door and heard some trilling...

It nearly got written off as Greenfinch song, but there were some chunky shapes up in the sycamore trees... bloody hell, Waxwings! 23 of them! In my garden! (well, nearly...)

You usually see pics of them scoffing berries in winter and occasionally catching insects in spring, but obviously berries stocks have hit rock-bottom locally and the flock has turned to sycamore flowers instead.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Twitching Out Of Area

It's silly not to go and see great birds like this drake Ring-necked Duck when they're only a short drive away. This bird has been at Grafham for the past week and a bit.

The pictures are poor (the bird remained a little bit too distant for me), but here's a comparison with drake Tufted Duck.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Farmland birding not always dull

The weather was reasonable this evening after work and it's silly to waste such opportunities, isn't it? For this reason I headed up into the 'mountains' to mighty Morborne Hill, a colossal 56m above sea-level.

(For those not familiar with the area, most of Peterborough is slumped 0-15m above sea-level, so 56m is really something. Bring out the oxygen masks and the crampons!)

The Morborne area has had some interesting birds in the past, for example, Serin, Red-backed Shrike, Willow Tit and Waxwing. The ridge it lies on is also good for raptors - Buzzard and Red Kite (the latter from the burgeoning, reintroduced east Northants population).

I was going to wander about a bit along the lane at the top but they're still rebuilding after the big fire that destroyed one of the radio/television masts there last year. So I went on to America Farm instead, just across the border in Northamptonshire, my home county.

I had a surprisingly fruitful time. I'd just got out of the car when a Short-eared Owl drifted with butterfly wingbeats from behind the red-brick barn and floated over the hill. Walking along the footpath, I picked up the 'chip' calls of Tree Sparrows from over the hedge, and a canary-yellow male Yellowhammer sat out among the blackthorn blossom. A displaying Lapwing squealed through the air distantly.

Behind another barn I heard the sharp 'krrrrrrrrrrr' of a male Grey Partridge, and there they were, a pair sitting together in the edge of a oilseed rape field. On the walk back down, a female Sparrowhawk flap-flap-glided her way across the view, putting up a pair of Pied Wagtails and [more?] Tree Sparrows apparently going to roost in a hedge.

To end on a good note, a Merlin zapped the same way the Sparrowhawk had gone a few minutes earlier. There was enough light to see slightly orangey underparts and a hint of blue above, so a sub-adult male? It hardly matters...

None of it was ground-breaking, but they were all good birds made all the more pleasing by knowing that if I hadn't seen them, nobody would have.

  • Can you guess what it is yet? Go on, work out who the previous owner of this feather was. Clue: I picked it up this evening, but the species isn't mentioned anywhere above...

photo taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Fluffy bunny wabbit

Rabbit, Ferry Meadows CP
Even the most hard-hearted blog reader must admit that this is a very cute little animal...

photo taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Bedford Purlieus NNR

Dog Violet



Dog's Mercury



It was a beautifully sunny, but very cold and windy, spring morning. I didn't fancy the washes in that kind of weather so I went to Bedford Purlieus NNR instead.

I am realising how completely ignorant I am about plants, even common species. I must do something about it...

Bedford P was in its usual brilliant state. I walked in from the west side and was immediately presented with thousands of photo-opportunities. The low sun was shining towards me through the young leaves and I can't resist all that glowing chlorophyll...

I took my scope just in case there were any digiscoping opportunities. I wouldn't want to be caught without my kit when a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flaunts itself... Didn't need it today but I had a few close shaves with singing Chiffchaffs and Coal Tits perching in blackthorn blossom, which would have made very nice shots indeed. I watched a Red Fox watching me, though he turned tail when I put my binoculars down.

However, the most satisfying sight of the morning was on the way back into Peterborough, where I watched a stupid BMW driver get flashed by the speed camera in the 40mph zone on the A47. There are huge warning signs everywhere. Ha.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995