Sunday, January 30, 2005


I was already getting ready to go to the Nene Washes when one of those text message things arrived:
"Eldnel. 3wpit. 250-300blkwit. 1m marsh h. Ringtail hh. 10s thous lapws. Seo. Its on fire! M"

He wasn't joking. I didn't see the Water Pipits, or the harriers, or even a Short-eared Owl, but the presence of thousands of Lapwings, Golden Plovers, hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and assorted wildfowl (mainly Wigeon, plus Teal, Pintail, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Shelduck, Shoveler and Gadwall) was more than enough.

Add a rather large Peregrine to the mix and it was an explosive combination. The waders (particularly the Goldies) were up in the air a lot of the time, trying to keep above the falcon. Most of the time the ducks stayed put, but a few times, everything got up as the Peregrine made a low pass over the flood and panic ensued.

As well as the visual treat of seeing thousands of birds shimmering in the sky, the sound was something special, too. For a few seconds while they were getting airborne, the shrill cries stopped and there was just the sound of beating wings.

Digiscoping Lapwings in flight was good fun. I didn't expect the results to be much good. My technique was to wait until the birds were up in the air, point the scope at the flock and take random pictures. The light was excellent so I got 1/1000th all the time and the pics turned out to be shockingly good (for me)!

I wasn't going for sharp pics (obviously!)... I just wanted to get some of the atmosphere, and I'm happy.

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

Friday, January 28, 2005

City centre twitching

Not the most obliging Waxwings in the world... Two of the crested lovelies were found this afternoon in a Peterborough city centre car-park by two English Nature bods. The car-park contained a rowan tree which was still laden with fruit, but the birds were rather nervous and spent nearly all their time high up in a nearby tree.

Our presence (with scopes and tripods etc) drew some attention from the manager of Bogart's bar, opposite, and the security guard of the shop whose car-park we were in...

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Water Rail, Rallus aquaticus

It's not often you see Water Rails playing to the camera, and this smart bird photographed at lunchtime was no exception, really...

Though it showed well - for a Water Rail - it was a tough digiscoping task, with the bird mostly hiding behind bits of reed and feeding vigorously with its head deep in vegetation. The camera always wanted to auto-focus on the reeds in front of the bird, so I had to point the camera and scope in the right direction, fiddle with the scope's focus so the rail was sort of sharp, and press the button, all while trying not to wobble too much.

Though the light was bright, it was hard to get a fast shutter speed with the bird's surroundings being quite dark. And the bird kept moving. And my hands were freezing.

Photographing from this angle makes the bird look incredibly spherical, which it wasn't really. With its beady little eyes set too close together, comedy droopy bill and balloon-shaped body with silly pink legs stuck on, it reminds me of a Creature Comforts character.

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

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Ringing: Ferry Meadows

We paid a slightly out-of-season visit to Ferry Meadows today for a spot of winter ringing. Chris and I were joined for the first time by a new recruit, Daniel Piec. And look what we caught! A Woodcock!

As Alan Partridge would say: "Back of the net!"

Somehow I ended up ringing it, which was a ringing tick. I only keep this list for training purposes, honest. It's virtually compulsory.

We had some other nice birds including Treecreeper (below), male Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit and lots of Blue Tits and Wrens.

Note the contrast between the Treecreeper's snowy-white underparts and the grubby mitts of the ringer in charge.

Our Long-tailed Tit tape-lure did not entice many birds, but it did succeed in attracting the attention of Ferry Meadows regulars, Don Gardener and Matt Webb, who went off in search of what must have sounded like the world's noisiest, largest tit flock. Sorry, lads...

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Nuts for Nuthatches

Some kind person (or people?) has been feeding the birds in Bluebell Wood for some time now. But it didn't occur to either Mike or me until yesterday that it could be a great place for digiscoping. We spent ten minutes there yesterday lunchtime watching Nuthatches, tits and Chaffinches going to and fro, and vowed to return today - armed with full digiscoping regalia AND some tasty treats.

Blue Tit

As the food was scattered around the 'birdtable', Robins popped up in every bush and Blue Tits gathered overhead to see what was going on. The Robins were extremely tame. They know people love them and they're not afraid to inspect you closely. Several times I heard a phrase of song and looked round to see a Robin virtually perching on my shoulder.

It was Mike's idea to wedge peanuts into the crevices of the tree stump, but unfortunately the Nuthatches weren't really interested in those when they could just grab billfuls of sunflower hearts and fly off to eat them at leisure.

Great Tits found the nuts instead.

Several of the birds (including this Great Tit) had been ringed - more than likely at Ferry Meadows (the ringing site is about 500m away) and perhaps even by me! There were a couple of ringed Long-tails as well. These species are very sedentary, but not as much as the Nuthatch - I've only ever seen one on the nature reserve once!

Male Chaffinch

Long-tailed Tit

I've loved Nuthatches ever since I saw my first ones back in 1990 (I was ten at the time), at Forge Valley Woods in North Yorkshire. Since then I've seen Rock and Kr├╝per's Nuthatches on Lesbos, but there's nothing quite like a cheeky, orangey Eurasian Nuthatch to warm the heart.

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

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Iceland Gull!

Kevin Du Rose and Dogsthorpe Star Pit do it again. The first I heard of it was when I received a phone call from Weedon's World of Nature. He virtually demanded I pick him up from his house. There seemed to be little point in arguing, so I did as I was told.

The record shots above were all I could muster. The bird was on the other side of the pit, the light was all wrong, and then it flew off to the tip, so that was that...

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

Ferry Meadows CP (again)

The FM Cormorants have made their, er, mark on the environment.

Grey Heron

Teal abstract

Yes, I went to see the Red-necked Grebe again, but couldn't find it in any of its usual spots. So, in order to ensure my journey had not been completely wasted, I seized the digiscoping opportunities that were offered to me.

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

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Ferry Meadows CP

Black-headed Gulls with Common Gull

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil...

First-winter/juvenile Common Gull

Female Tufted Duck

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

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Eye-ring or i-ris?

An insight into the minds of modern birdwatchers

There has been a Red-necked Grebe at Ferry Meadows Country Park since December 28 (pictured above, below the surface). This is the first 'twitchable' bird to occur in the Peterborough area since 1998, so celebrations all round. It disappeared for a while over New Year but has now reappeared and today was showing better than ever.

Birders are a strange lot. There is currently a heated, no, enthusiastic debate about the bird's age (once upon a time, I suspect it would have been enough to have assigned the bird to species, but today's modern birders, armed with better-than-ever optics and digital cameras, need to be able to go that bit further). We are having an anally-retentive discussion about the bird's eye.

I have to stop every few minutes to remind myself how absurd this must seem to the outsider. I think it's pretty absurd.

There has been much scrutiny of digital photos. Some participants say that from the pictures, it looks like the bird has a yellow iris, which would age it as a first-winter (one hatched in spring last year). Others say that the yellow visible is in fact an eye-ring (ie. the edge of the bird's eyelids), and the eye itself is dark, which would make it more likely to be an adult bird.

I fall into the latter camp. I don't really care what age it is (it's still a Red-necked Grebe, either way), and I have no great insight to offer into the ageing of the species. I just think it's an eye-ring and I can't understand why some people think it's an iris. Any bird with a pupil that big in bright sunlight (or any light at all) would be in big trouble. Bright light = small pupil.

[Isn't that what they're talking about on Casualty when they say sternly: "Pupils fixed and dilated"? Then they get the defibrillators out and the patient's a goner.]

The bird's age has no bearing at all on its 'value'. Why do we care? Because these days we have the technology to be able to see these things. I suppose you are a superior, better-educated birdwatcher if you are able to offer informed comment on things like this.

Some of the commentators haven't been to see the bird, but I can feel all smug when I say I've been to see it several times, in different light conditions. One low-res digital photo can be all it takes to change your mind. It's highlighted how much faith people put into photos they see on the web, how digiscoping/digital photography is revolutionising modern birding, and how your opinion can be swayed by the appearance of a few pixels in a picture.

We should all read Simon Barnes' excellent new book, How To Be A Bad Birdwatcher and get things in perspective.

I'm enjoying the debate, in an anoraky kind of way. I suspect that only the participants have any sort of interest in the topic (though perhaps others are looking on with amusement from the sidelines?). It's quite funny, though I suppose that makes me as big an anorak as the next person...

Today's beautiful light didn't help my digiscoping, since the bird has moved to a narrow channel and it was too close, really! I'm not grumbling too much. Though the picture at the top typifies my luck when it comes to photographing this bird (it dives a lot and has usually done so by the time my camera takes its picture), the result below it is probably the best I've managed yet. Still not very good but it doesn't really matter.

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

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Hawfinch for the year...

It's a terrible photo, but this wing-stretching female Hawfinch showed brilliantly outside the Nene Park Trust office window at Ferry Meadows CP. We spent about 15 minutes looking without success before Chris Park located it resting on a branch just a short distance away!

Then the big girl dropped down into the leaf litter to munch on field maple keys, which she did with supreme efficiency. Pick up the key, manoeuvre it around with the tongue - chomp - off comes the useless 'wing' part attached to the seed, and Bob's your uncle.

Digibinned with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Ultravid 8x42 BR!

Monday, January 03, 2005

Sparrowhawk for the yearlist...

Went on a largely pointless wander around Serpentine BP this morning. The windswept moonscape was strangely devoid of birds.

I was just leaving when a cacophony of Long-tailed Tit calls alerted me to Something Going On in the hedge by the road. I've never heard such a racket. My guess was that there was a dozing Tawny Owl in there, but after a minute or so, the noise reached new, shrill levels, with added squealing Blue Tits, and a big female Sparrowhawk flew out over my head and off down the hedge to have a go at catching something there.

Always nice to have close encounters with raptors.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Castor Hanglands NNR

The New Year always brings out the hopeless optimist in me. I went to Castor Hanglands today, secretly wishing for Hawfinch or Crossbill. I got neither, of course, but the place was littered with Bullfinches munching all kinds of seeds. This female is enjoying the leftovers of blackberries.

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

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year, same uncooperative birds

A text from Dr Weedon woke me up at 07:53 this morning.

It said:
"Bastn fen. Seo 2bo 3goosandr over. M".

Which, translated into English, means:
"I am at Baston Fen NR. I have seen a Short-eared Owl, two Barn Owls and three Goosander. Mike".

There was another at 08:16:
"Bfen. 3 beardies buzard. M".

Translation: "I am still at Baston Fen NR. I have also seen three Bearded Tits and a Buzzard. Mike".

Then there was a phone call, urging me to get out and see the Bearded Tits ("can you hear them pinging? You could almost have that on your yearlist!"), so I dragged myself up there and spent an hour and a half standing around in the cold, not hearing any pinging before one of them let one out, as it were, and the tension was relieved. I didn't see any of the little buggers, though.

Now I don't have to worry about getting them on the yearlist anymore...

For me, the Bearded Tit experience was put in the shade by the adult male Merlin - the blue uppers showed up nicely against the dark soil - which shot over the counter drain and put up a big flock of Woodpigeons and Stock Doves from the setaside across the bank.