March 28, 2006

'Let us go then, you and I...'

... to tick a thrush in Peckham Rye.

(Yes, that's more TS Eliot)

Last Monday, I received some photographs of a ''strange bird'' in someone's garden in Peckham. Usually these 'strange birds' turn out to be Fieldfares, but this was indeed a first-winter male American Robin. Big news, so after putting news out and begging my line manager, me and a colleague went down to London on the train to see the bird and interview the finder (Katie couldn't make it).

We didn't see the bird, but had a good enough day anyway - the finder was a charming lady who offered us teas and biscuits. Birds of the day for me were the six Sand Martins just before we pulled into Sandy on the way home. For Mark, the best bird was the one standing on the platform at Welwyn North.

After Katie picked us up from the pub, we moved on to Grafham where Kittiwakes had earlier been seen: again no joy but we did get the first Swallow of the year as we drove home on the A1.

Species added today:
120. Swallow

March 26, 2006

Local twitching

Today we went twitching with Weedon's World of Nature, alias Mike Weedon, Peterborough's most avid year- and area-lister.

The reason was that he was car-less and there were good birds to be seen in the north of our local area. Because I'm kind, I offered him a lift.

Our first stop was Deeping Lakes Nature Reserve, where, that morning, there'd been a Little Stint and a Sandwich Tern. Little Stints are annual in this part of the country, as are Sandwich Terns, but the terns are far less reliable. This point was proved yet again as the bird had scarpered by the time we arrived at the scene...

For a while, it looked like we were going to have a double-whammy of dipping (i.e. failing to see target bird), but the day was saved when a tiny wader flew into view and landed on an island in front of us. It was very small indeed, and not particularly close, but undoubtedly an interestingly-plumaged Little Stint (click here to see Mike's photo).

A wander around to The Lake and its hide brought us a few Goldeneye and Darren picked out a redhead Smew. Nice work...

A visit to Baston & Langtoft gravel pits was next, as there'd been a few migrants hanging around there that morning, too. Typically, there was nowt to be seen - except one of the 'famous' Red-crested Pochards which breed there (deemed self-sustaining). And that was a year tick for us all.

After a quick stop at Maxey, where we saw very little, with the exception of the Yellowhammer pictured above, and a Green Sandpiper, we gave up - partly because it was starting to rain, and partly because it didn't seem worth carrying on. That's local, inland birding for you, sometimes...

Species added today:
Little Stint
119. Red-crested Pochard
Green Sandpiper

March 25, 2006

Nene Washes

Conditions weren't ideal on the windy Nene Washes today, but the birds didn't seem to mind too much. We shared the area with something in excess of 5,000 Golden Plover and numerous Redshank, Lapwing and Meadow Pipit.

There were a few 'ticking' Snipe but no drumming could be heard. It looks fantastic for waders - breeding and otherwise - at the moment, but there's a good chance most of the water will evaporate before passage really gets underway.

We were hoping for a few Garganey or a Wheatear, but the swirling, rushing flocks of Goldies overhead made up for their absence. The Lapwings were in full display mode and there was much aerial flirting/fighting. Meadow Pipits 'parachuted' over the meadows and flocks of Wigeon were still around. The calls of Marsh Harriers echoed from higher up.

But the best stuff is yet to come.

March 22, 2006

Do not disturb

At 4:30 this afternoon the news broke, a mega had dropped at The Lodge. Local birder Phil Hasell was photographing redpolls from the hide on the meadow and a pair of Mandarin had dropped in - a site first.

Well, at least since the previous owner of The Lodge kept them in his swimming pool in the early 1900's.

The news was quickly disseminated, and as I rushed to the hide after asking the wonderful receptionists to put me on DND for a few minutes and considering the possibility of an early April Fool, a mass twitch was in progress, conceivably the first time any of the four of us had ever undertaken a 400 yard twitch for Mandarin.

There they were; the female prospecting and the male standing guard as she inspected the hole and cleared out any debris. Handsome birds, male and female both, and thankfully an introduced species that is not of conservation concern. If they take up residence and breed, I hope they won't be disturbed too much.

Species added today:
118. Mandarin

March 21, 2006

Cock up

Driving to work this morning, a fat bird with a long bill flew overhead as we sped down the A1. Me, being half asleep offered ''Snipe?'' to which Miss Fuller replied ''Snipe? My arse, you big monkeyhead, it was a Woodcock.''

Flushed with pride at my hopeless hangover-induced misidentification I went for a bracing stroll on Biggleswade Common with a colleague. Not much apart from a displaying Sparrowhawk, a Common Buzzard, 112ish Fieldfares and a nicely singing Yellowhammer- well, thats what I called them as.

March 19, 2006

Four-point plan

We had quite a successful day today.

1. Helped with a Wildlife Watch walk at Ferry Meadows. None of the hoped-for migrants, of course (everything is late this year), but showed the kids (and their parents) some nice birds - two Kingfishers, some displaying Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants, Snipe, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and Pochards. Enjoyable.

2. Lunch at The Ship in Oundle (superb and good value), en route to...

3. Twitching at Eyebrook Reservoir. I got back some year ticks on Darren - Smew, Goosander and Grey Wagtail - while he got a lifer - Green-winged Teal.

What was once a Black-throated Diver appeared to have morphed over the weekend into a Great Northern - which we don't need for the year-list but it was good to see all the same.

[Ironically, another Green-winged Teal was found at Woodwalton Fen NNR this afternoon, plus some Garganey]

4. And finally. We paid homage to the Iceland Gull at CEGB Reservoir, Peterborough, which has been roosting there recently.

I would like to say in a very smug way that I was the first person to get onto it, beating four blokes. HA! I'm not the world's biggest gull fan (in fact, I'd go as far as to say I actively avoid them) and usually I'm rubbish at spotting these things.

Luckily, Icy stood out among the throngs of Black-headed Gulls. It wasn't even too hard to age - it's a second-winter starting to get adult pale grey feathers on its mantle.

However, I can confirm you won't be finding me at the tip searching for Caspian Gulls anytime soon. Yuck.

Species added today:
116. Goosander
Green-winged Teal
117. Grey Wagtail
Iceland Gull

March 18, 2006


We didn't go birding today- I slept for most of the afternoon. I guess it must be work catching up with me. Interestingly however, I invented an entire mythology whilst asleep. Not sure if you can invent mythologies but I did.

It was about a village called Puddlewick St.Christopher where there was a pub called The Lion and Lamb. They served real ale and home-cooked fayre that was served to you by giant squirrels, one of which was called Benjamin; he wore a bowler hat, smoked a pipe and had a slight limp, in his left leg if I remember correctly. The limp was a legacy of the Great Squirrel War of 1967, when villagers rioted over the uneven distribution of acorns. Despite this brutal history, Puddlewick St.Christopher seems such a peaceful village.

If you are thinking how strange a place my head is, consider me, I have to live there.


March 11, 2006

My manners are tearing off heads.....

That's from Ted Hughes's poem The Hawk Roosting. You are probably unaware that I am a poncey poetry-reading nonce but you don't know me, and this post is about the hawk, not me.

Dick Forsman gives a great tip for separating distant flying Sparrowhawks and Goshawks; very helpfully he suggests- ''Corvids react very differently towards Sparrowhawks and Goshawks: Sparrowhawks are often chased and mobbed in flight, whereas at the appearance of a Goshawk, the birds shit themselves with fear, then drop dead from the sky like H5N1-infected Pochards.''

Great stuff- my type of bird. So Miss Fuller and I drove off somewhere very, very secret where these arch-assassins are known to breed, because we need to see it for this year-list thing we're doing.

There were other species we wanted to see along the way and we met with varying levels of success- in other words, we either saw the birds or we didn't.

I'll let Katie tell you how we did because Match of the Day is about to start.................

Sparrowhawk on steroids

Yes, as you may have guessed, we went to the Brecks today - that odd, pine-forested locale on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. You can tell when you get near because you start seeing Americans in obscenely large, left-hand drive vehicles.

We were only partially successful today. We had a few target birds we hoped to pick up in the area - Stone-curlew, Golden Pheasant, a wintering Great Grey Shrike, Woodlark and

Stone-curlews weren't around (they weren't showing in the fields we looked in, and Weeting Heath NWT doesn't open until 1 April!), creeping very quietly around Wayland Wood (see left) failed to find us any Golden Pheasants, and the Great Grey was nowhere to be seen.

So it's just as well that a Woodlark burst into song while we were looking for thick-knees
, and that we struck it lucky on a visit to another site for raptors.

Darren saw his first Goshawk today. An adult male, it dashed across a clearing and away into the depths of the forest through a snowstorm. No doubt about it - it was a heavy, substantial bird that moved with real power in its wingbeats - none of your scrawny Sparrowhawk rubbish.

For once, there was no need for debate over 'bird of the day'.

It was about the only bird we saw!

Species added today:
114. Woodlark
115. Goshawk

March 03, 2006

Scatter my Ashes on The Lodge Plateau

It's good to be back. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I love the place. As Spring draws near, my sense of anticipation grows; it's hard work birding there, harder work than the work itself, but the setting is simply beautiful.

Every afternoon, I eschew the delights of the staff canteen and go for a stroll instead. A viewing point at The Lodge looks out over the Greensand Ridge on to disused gravel pits known as Warren Villas- and it is here that I hope, one day, the biggie will drop.

On Thursday I wandered over and was lucky enough to find a Little Egret coming in to roost. I was fortunate to pick it up at eye level (about 100 feet up) as it circled the pit before dropping in- I was grilling a Common Gull as it came fortuitously into 'scope view.

Friday afternoon I was there again with my colleague Richard, who commented ''We haven't seen much this week apart from gulls and geese'' when almost immediately I picked up a Barn Owl hunting over the rough grassland- a good record for The Lodge. Certain birds always lift my spirits and Barn Owl is certainly one of them. Sometimes I wonder if I get more pleasure seeing birds myself or helping others see them and sharing their excitement.

Back at my desk I sent Katie and Mark an email, but unfortunately they were in a meeting about birds sneezing so couldn't get out to see it. Barn Owls are creatures of habit so hopefully next week they will be able to add the species to their Lodge lists.

So that's two different Barn Owls this week, three bird days in total. And to round it off, 23 Siskins flew overhead in the Garden and settled obediently in a silver birch.

I wish every week could be like this one. Birds of the week:

Gtr White-fronted Goose (35)
Little Owl (2)
Barn Owl (2)
Green Sandpiper
Male Sparrowhawk in undulating display-flight
Little Egret
Siskin (23+ other fly-overs)