Sunday, January 27, 2008


video taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 77 with 20x eyepiece

I've been reading enviously about the grosbeaks and other brightly-coloured delights frequenting North American gardens lately. So here's a male Chaffinch, one of our more attractive garden birds.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Big Garden Birdwatch - done

It's Big Garden Birdwatch weekend again. I've just done my count, from 10.15 to 11.15am:
  • Greenfinch: 12
  • Chaffinch: 7
  • Jackdaw: 7
  • Great Tit: 4
  • Blue Tit: 3
  • Robin: 3
  • Dunnock: 2
  • Coal Tit: 1
  • Sparrowhawk: 1
  • Wren: 1
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker: 1
  • Blackbird: 1
Looking at my results from last year, some things are pretty much the same while others have changed slightly. I had the same number of Jackdaws and Chaffinches, but fewer Blue Tits. No Long-tailed Tit or Stock Dove this year, but we had a visit from a Sparrowhawk (perhaps the same one as the other day; it used the same hunting strategy). I counted six times more Greenfinches this year than last.

It's hard to draw conclusions from that but my bit of 'science' will go into the pot with everyone else's.

Most annoyingly, I didn't see any Marsh Tits or Tree Sparrows, which were both seen yesterday.

Marsh Tits are occasional visitors, dropping in briefly to grab a sunflower seed and then disappearing.

Until yesterday, we'd had only one Tree Sparrow before, in November, which stayed two days and cleared off. Three were seen together yesterday, joining the Greenfinches underneath the feeders.

No sign of them yet today. I did consider waiting til they showed before commencing my count, but that felt like cheating and anyway, I might have been waiting all day.

Good morning

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Absolutely Jack Snipe

I can't remember why I was thinking about it, but I was reminiscing the other day about lunchtimes at CEGB Reservoir (or Fletton Brick Pit), back in the days when I lived in Peterborough.

It was a mad dash across the city to Fletton. Park on the grass verge, waterproof trousers on, wellies on, leg it across the road without getting mown down by a speeding motorist, and meet the others (MJW, SPD, BHS) at the top. Then we descended into the grey sludge of the former brick pit to begin our work.

Walking through the clay was something of an experience. You had to be careful not to stand in one place for too long, or you were in danger of losing your wellies.

We squelched carefully through the fringe of reeds at the water's edge, watching what flew up and where it went down.

'Snipe. Snipe. Snipe.'

That way we did our best to ensure we didn't count birds twice. On 8 January 2003, we counted a total of 27 Jack Snipe - more Jacks than Snipe that day!; the total was only one less on 13 December 2002.

The way the two species flee from perceived danger is different: Jack Snipe fly off in a straight line and drop down again after only a short distance. Snipe take off like a wayward firework, zigzagging away and up into the sky, before wheeling round and going back down. A Woodcock we flushed one day was quite startling, with a whirr of fat brown wings.

Another December day, we came across a pair of Bearded Tits feeding happily in the Phragmites. To see them at head-height, barely a few metres away, on a grotty clay pit on the outskirts of Peterborough, was something I'll remember for a long time.

I think they're going to turn it into a boating lake now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I saw a meme on someone's blog the other day. Can't remember whose, but the subject was 'first 20 songs to play on random shuffle on your iPod/computer/other music-playing device':

1. The Saturday Option - Lambchop
2. Waiting For Nothing - Sparklehorse
3. He was dressed in shirt of doe-skin - Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, Welsh National Opera
4. Orange Wedge - Chemical Brothers
5. What If We Give It Away? - R.E.M.
6. Pop Song 89 - R.E.M.
7. B + A - Beta Band
8. I Know - Beta Band
9. Cat On The Wall - PJ Harvey
10. This Corrosion - Lambchop
11. Broke - Beta Band
12. Fragile Happiness - Super Furry Animals
13. Land Locked Blues - Bright Eyes
14. Begin - Lambchop
15. Presidential Suite - Super Furry Animals
16. The New Cobweb Summer - Lambchop
17. Into The Night - Super Furry Animals
18. See The Light - Sparklehorse
19. Shame - PJ Harvey
20. Single To Fairwater - Gorkys Zygotic Mynci

I would say the proportion of Beta Band is rather higher than in reality.

I won't bother tagging anyone else because I know they won't do it. But if anyone fancies it, go ahead...

Spring is on its way

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cat and mouse

Spent quite a while watching the activity of a young male Sparrowhawk in the garden this afternoon. He appeared twice; I didn't see his arrival either time, but his presence was made all too obvious by the behaviour of the small birds using the feeding station.

Hawk flies into bush; birds either explode from bush, or take cover in the thickest, most tangled twiggy bits; hawk scrambles around inside, trying to catch small bird unaware or flush one out; hawk scares bird out and flies after it to no avail; hawk comes back to sit on garden fence.

It doesn't seem a very efficient hunting method, but watching the way the small birds - Great and Blue Tits, Robins, Dunnocks - react to the Sparrowhawk is interesting. It's definitely a case of cat-and-mouse once the hawk is in the bush (which the small birds use as shelter and somewhere to queue up when they're using the feeder).

The hawk is surprisingly agile among the branches and looks around it furiously in search of a bird to grab. Great Tits tend to mock and scold it, while simultaneously being careful not to end up in its talons. Conversely, I watched a Dunnock freeze in apparent terror at the bottom of the shrub, hoping its brown streakiness would be enough to see it through.

I haven't seen the Sparrowhawk catch anything yet.

photo taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 77 with 20x eyepiece

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bursting into song

It was cold, cloudy, windy and raining when I went out for a quick walk at lunchtime today. There wasn't a lot to see, but what struck me was the number of birds singing.

They were everywhere. By the swimming pool, a blackbird was atop a tree and in full song (though perhaps in need of a little practice). Robins lurked in every bush, and by standing in one spot, I could hear five different Great Tits singing. Further round the footpath, Coal Tits squeaked from the pine trees and Goldcrests wheezed away.

Which reminds me: as we left the house to go to Swiss Gardens for the Firecrest on the 6th, there was the distant rattle of a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker from down the road. And when I stepped outside the office to fill up the bird feeder on Monday, I heard a shower of Nuthatch calls and the 'kick' of another Great Spot.

I can't wait for a few weeks' time when things are really getting going.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Swan update

Got back the details of the colour-ringed Mute Swan I saw at Harrold-Odell on 27th December.

Rather as I suspected, it was a case of:

Ringed: Harrold-Odell CP, 26 Apr 2003, adult male
Distance moved: 0km

Still, it was worth checking out. It must like it there to have spent the past five years in the same place.

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Great Spot

Terribly dark, but here's one of our regular garden visitors.

video taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 77 with 20x eyepiece

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Know your RSS from your elbow

Several times recently, I've been talking to people and they tell me they've added something to their blog. I say 'Yes, I saw, I've subscribed to your RSS feed' and they look at me blankly and say 'My what?'

This baffles me. These are people who write blogs, which have RSS feeds, but they don't use them and don't know what they are.

RSS feeds are great. They mean you don't have to keep checking to see if your favourite blog has been updated. Subscribe and you'll get a tip-off when there's something new.

To use RSS you need some kind of news reader (some software which receives the new stuff and then tells you about it). There are lots available; decent web browsers have them built-in. I use Google Reader, which is web-based, so I can pick up new stuff at home and work.

With Google Reader, all I have to do is click on the orange icon which appears in the address bar of Firefox. Then I can review all the new posts to my favourite blogs in a few seconds, without having to go looking for them (if I'm at work and not using Firefox, I can just tell Google Reader the address of the blog or page (BBC News also uses RSS, for example) and it will find the feed and subscribe to it).

Go on, start using RSS and you can spend more time in the field. Or in bed. Your call.
  • I've just started 'sharing' my favourite blog posts in the panel on the right, headed 'good stuff', also using Google Reader.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Crest of fire

You know what it's like when your feet are really, really cold. You think they're almost numb but they're not, because they hurt. You long to get back in the car and put the heater on, and then get out of there.

That was me this morning at the Swiss Gardens, and we were on our way back to the car when suddenly it appeared by the bridge: a tiny eyestripe of a bird flying through the trees away from us. 'Got it!'

We then spent 15 minutes watching the Firecrest as it hovered around the ivy several metres off the ground, clung to tiny stems and darted from leaf to leaf (why does a small bird which must have to feed constantly bother to hover?). It wasn't close, but it was close enough.

Before, I'd been thinking that it didn't matter that we hadn't seen it, because I'd enjoyed the Siskins singing, and the flocks of Long-tailed Tits, and the flock of six Nuthatches bickering just in front of us anyway, so all was not lost. To see the Firecrest as well was merely the icing on the cake.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

There's an owl at the bottom of my garden

It's just getting dark outside and I can hear an owl outside. It's not really that unusual here: Tawny Owls can be heard most nights, we've heard the occasional Little Owl, and listening to Barn Owls wheezing their way over the garden was a frequent occurrence in summer.

The sound of tonight's Tawny was particularly loud and clear, so I went to the window to have a look. And, lo and behold, there was an owl-shaped silhouette against the dark blue sky, in the ash tree at the bottom of our garden.

Got my binoculars and had a closer look, through the window glass. I couldn't discern any detail, but I watched the owl's head dip as it gave another hoot. I was just considering trying to digiscope it, but before I could, it flew round to the other side of the tree and had a look at the cavity in the tree that the Jackdaws nested in last year!

Owls nesting in the garden would be fun... They'll be settling down to breed soon, so we might not have long to wait to find out.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

MicroGoose and Friends

Got to Grafham Water to see the dark-bellied Brent Goose which has been touring the district. As reported, it was at Marlowe car park, along with some beasts of dubious origin - Greylags, Swan Geese and colossal domestic geese. And a Greylag x Swan Goose hybrid.

I approached with caution in case it was a bit jumpy...

So far, so good. Could I get a bit closer?


photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

New Year's Day

Unfortunately, weather-wise, it's been one of these kinds of days:

Fen Drayton Lakes




Dog (OK, I was bored)

We've managed to clock up 80 species today, at Fen Drayton, Grafham, Warren Villas and Thurleigh - not too bad. Highlights were Hen Harrier, Barn and Short-eared Owls at the latter site, though the redhead Smew at FD were nice to get on 1 January, and the Woodcock that hurtled across in front of the car at Thurleigh was a surprise.

We didn't get Sparrowhawk, Linnet, Jay or Nuthatch, or the Scaup at WV, and the only bunting species was Reed.

Charlie Moores is (or was) in Japan today. He got better photos and some sunshine, but we saw more species...

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM