Monday, 31 January 2011

Amazing Turnstone Migration

Just back from a very dull and cold survey in Lincolnshire today where all I saw in 5 hours of flight activity surveys today was a single Grey Heron! A Tawny Owl on a nocturnal survey was a nice surprise sat up in a hedge.

The following news story from Birdlife International caught my eye this morning, it involves an individual Ruddy Turnstone that has been logged flying 27,000 miles, twice! The bird (photographed below © Huang Ming 2011) fitted with a geolocator, represents the first time a wader has been tracked on its complete migration in successive years (2009 and 2010).

The data retrieved so far shows that the birds generally start their northward migration from Australia in April with an initial nonstop flight of around 7,600 km in six days to Taiwan or adjacent regions where they feed up on the tidal flats before moving north to the Yellow Sea and northern China, then making the 5,000 km flight to their breeding grounds in northern Siberia.

After the breeding season the return migration can be variable, with some birds returning through Asia, with others taking a trans-Pacific route where the bird moves east to the Aleutian Islands off southwest Alaska before making the huge journey across the Pacific, stopping only once or twice before reaching Australia in December after two amazing nonstop flights of 7,800 km and 5,000 km (e.g. Aleutians to Kirabati to Australia or Aleutians to Marshall Islands and Vanuatu to Australia).

The reasons for these variable routes is not known, but this does highlight the key regions within the flyway and their need for protection.

In addition, this also shows the importance of ringing birds and especially individually marking birds with flags and geolocators.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Another afternoon in the LDV

I managed to get all of my housework jobs done (and do my highly unsucessful Big Garden Birdwatch) in the morning today which enabled me to get in another trip onto my new local patch (Thorganby and North Duffield Carrs this time).

It was cool (frozen water), dull, misty and murky and the visibility was rubbish. This didn't fill me with much confidence but I thought I'd give it a bash!

There was lots of birds but it was hard work given the above and I didn't bother to try counting many of the species present as it was a bit too daunting a task!

I managed the following at Thorganby: 326 Lapwing, 4 Redshank, 32 Curlew, 107 Dunlin, 18 Ruff, 45 Golden Plover, 1 Cormorant, 5 Black-headed Gull, 2 Red-legged Partridge plus Fieldfare, Redwing, Song Thrush, Starling, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Carrion Crow, Rook and Jackdaw.

Moving down to North Duffield Carrs (Geoff Smith Hide) there was plenty of birds, possibly more than were present on Friday, they were all very tightly packed at the back of the waterbody due to most of the water being frozen but as at Thorganby the weather was the main hindrance. I did manage to count a couple of species managing the following:

98 Whooper Swan, 45 Mute Swan, 1 Black Swan, 30 Tufted Duck, 6 Shoveler, 32 Pochard, 45 Shelduck, plus several hundred Canada and Greylag Geese and thousands of Wigeon and Teal with a good number of Pintail and Mallard with several Coot and Moorhen recorded too. A fly through vocal Kingfisher was a good bonus. Most of the Whooper Swans were on the water, with the majority of the Mutes in the fields opposite the car park.

Mute and Whooper Swans © Andreas Trepte 2011

News from further north up the valley included a juvenile Glaucous Gull and an adult Caspian Gull.

Big Garden Birdwatch - Day 2 - Location 2

I was full of excitement this morning getting ready for the Big Garden Birdwatch in my new garden. After seeing almost 50 species in the first 2 months of being in the house I was full of optimism, however it turned out to be hugely disappointing - I'm not sure if there was a Sparrowhawk sat on my roof for an hour, or a cat sat under my bird table but the birds just didn't come in the numbers that they were here in the previous days and week.

Anyway, to the birds... 2 Blackbird, 3 Chaffinch, 4 Greenfinch, 2 Starling, 2 Collared Dove, 4 Goldfinch, 2 Fieldfare, 1 Mistle Thrush, 2 Wood Pigeon, 1 Wren, 1 Robin and 4 House Sparrow.

Robin © Andrew Walker 2011

There are a couple of reasons I can think of for the distinct lack of birds today:

1. My neighbour who feeds the birds (for a lot of years) has been away since Friday so less food out in close proximity to my garden;

2. The neighbour over the way nearest the good corridor of habitat and the countryside edge put a ton of food out so birds didn't need to come so far; and,

3. A mild damp night with no frost in the gardens resulted in birds staying in the fields a bit more than they have been doing for the last week of so.

Whilst doing my survey I wondered about the validity of the Big Garden Birdwatch - good for getting people to count and look at the birds in their garden and no doubt helps with winter distribution and abundance etc, but probably open to a degree of error, for example, how many people waited until there was a good haul of birds in their garden before starting to count - would it not be better methodology to get everyone to count the birds at a set time, e.g. 09.30-10.30 etc? Just a thought.

Looking forward to seeing the result, despite being a little disappointed with my own haul.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Big Garden Birdwatch - Location 1 Day 1

I went down to Nuneaton, Warwickshire today for a couple of hours to visit my parents. The journey south from Yorkshire was fairly quiet, a single Buzzard and single Kestrel the only raptors noted. The highlight on the southbound journey was clearly the guy in the BMW doing 95+mph in the outside lane having a shave!

During the middle of the day I managed to fit in an hour of observing the garden - the same garden that got me really interested in logging birds when I was much younger. Much of the surrounding vegetation has changed a little and the birds that were once common are present in much lower numbers (which appears to be a national trend for species such as House Sparrow and Starling) with others appearing more numerous (e.g. Wood Pigeon - again surely mirroring a national trend).

In my hour of observation I recorded the following 18 species:

Robin x2
Dunnock x2
Wood Pigeon x6
Collared Dove x2
Greenfinch x4
House Sparrow x2
Blackbird x2
Blue Tit x4
Great Tit x4
Wren x1
Chaffinch x4
Long-tailed Tit x6
Redwing x3 (flyover)
Cormorant x1 (flyover)
Black-headed Gull x5 (flyover)
Common Gull x2 (flyover)
Carrion Crow x1 (flyover)
Starling x2 (flyover)

Wren © Andrew Walker 2011

I'm looking forward to spending an hour in my new garden in North Duffield tomorrow morning - hoping for something interesting to liven up the hour and I'm also hoping to get back into the Lower Derwent Valley - would be good to catch up with the Glaucous Gull that roosted on Wheldrake Ings.

I've also got a copy of the new book 'A Photographic Guide to Birds of China including Hong Kong' to review for so I will get on with reading through that too.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Lower Derwent Valley local patch

I had a cracking afternoon dropping into 4 locations within the Lower Derwent Valley prior to dusk (Bank Island, Thorganby, North Duffield Carrs and Bubwith Ings). It was cold but the light was fantastic (apart from a little while whilst at Thorganby) and birds were abundant, especially Wigeon and Teal.

Common Teal: Image © Steve Garvie 2010

The following counts are likely to be lower than what was actually present but the birds have a habit of being able to vanish amongst the vegetation in an instant, also the amount of area I covered was tiny compared to the whole area. However it was still incredibly enjoyable and hardly anyone about!

Highlights included:

Wigeon x3169

Teal x1331

Canada Goose x250

Mallard x199

Shelduck x75

Pintail x60

Greylag Goose x55

Mute Swan x45

Tufted Duck x27

Shoveler x8

Whooper Swan x6

Goldeneye x5

Gadwall x4

Black Swan x1

Lapwing x516

Dunlin x152

Ruff x32

Curlew x25

Golden Plover x17

Barn Owl x1

Peregrine x1 (Juvenile Female)

Kestrel x1

Sparrowhawk x1

Buzzard x3

Other bits and pieces included Fieldfare, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Starling, Tree Sparrow, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch, Stock Dove etc etc...

I'm looking forward to the Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend, I best get my feeders filled up!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A day with Peregrines...

An early(ish) start this morning saw me heading south and into a freezing cold and windy Derbyshire to a new site for a scoping exercise and some vantage point surveys. A morning touring the new site indicated that it was going to be an interesting site to spend a year at with a wide range of habitats and spectacular scenery.

I started my afternoon survey with moderate expectations given the location and the time of the year but after an hour or so started getting rewarded, firstly a Buzzard drifted into view, followed by a brief Sparrowhawk hunting the hundreds of Fieldfare, Redwing and Starlings. A flock of Common Gull wielded away which caught my attention, followed by a flash of grey as an adult male Peregrine shot through. As I got my scope on the adult male a flash of brown caught my eye, a juvenile female Peregrine was up too. These birds spent a good 10 minutes in aerial display, the female didn't seem particularly interested but the male was giving it a good go, even taking 30 seconds out to chase a party of Fieldfares across some fields - again to no avail! Eventually they both landed in a dead tree giving good scope views.

Male Peregrine © Trevor Wood 2011

A period of quiet was filled momentarily by a pair of Ravens that bobbed around for a brief spell, with a good 3 or 4 Buzzards up soaring about before it got lively again when the big juvenile female Peregrine returned over the site, this time it had its focus on a lone Wood Pigeon that was flying 50m in front of it. A burst of speed and a tightening of its wings saw it stoop towards its intended prey - and typically straight over a ridge and out of sight! It didn't make a catch as it appeared not long afterwards before flying off to bug some gulls!

An enjoyable day and I'm looking forward to a year in Derbyshire!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Amazing Journey

Back in August I mentioned 'The Amazing Journey' website - Where you can follow the migration of the Sociable Lapwing and experience their extraordinary migration in real-time. The 9 Critically Endangered birds have been tracked from their breeding grounds in Kazakhstan to their wintering areas across North Africa, the Middle East and into India.

The 9 birds are called Abaj, Alia, Dinara, Erzhan, Jibek, Lena, Raushan, Svetlana and Tatyana.

So far most of the birds have taken the 'typical' - though still quite impressive route of west out of Kazakhstan before heading south typically through southwest Russia and Georgia down into eastern Turkey and beyond into the Sudan.

One of the most interesting birds, Dinara has shown (possibly for the first time) the 'Eastern Flyway' used by the species, this bird left the breeding grounds in Central/Eastern Kazakhstan, flew south to Uzbekistan, then southeast to Pakistan then southwest through Pakistan before heading south into northern India near Ahmedabad (Gujarat). Another bird, Raushan has also moved in a similar direction. Sociable Plover were known to winter in the north of India, what was not known was how they got there. This incredible research is helping to provide answers that will hopefully lead to some form of protection within its migration route and wintering grounds.

In the map below you can see Dinara’s route plotted in red. The blue routes to and from Kazakhstan and The Sudan denote the westerly flyway that satellite tracking in previous years has confirmed and are primarily the routes provided by Erzhan and Abaj. The green dots represent all known Sociable Lapwing records from 1850 – 2010 with the dot size scaled to flock size.

This is a Birdlife International Preventing Extinctions Project sponsored by the RSPB and Swarovski Optik. All images and maps are © Birdlife International (2011).

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The New Local Patch

Since I'm going to be spending quite a bit of time in the Lower Derwent Valley (LDV) and referring to the very many birding locations throughout the reserve and surrounding areas I thought I'd put a couple of maps up on my blog (from the Natural England Nature on the Map website).

The Lower Derwent Valley NNR supports a rich diversity of plant species and outstanding populations of breeding and wintering birds. In light of this, the reserve has been declared a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Ramsar site, in other words it is afforded the strongest level of legal protection available in Europe under the EC Birds Directive.

The reserve and surrounding area support a wide range of important breeding and wintering species, as such I will have to restrict some of what I put on here so please don't ask if I refer to a 'secret species A, B, C etc.' Assuming I discover any that is!

The map below shows the southern section of the Lower Derwent Valley, with my approximate house location and shows Skipwith Common, North Duffield Carrs, Bubwith and the public footpaths to the south of North Duffield that I regularly walk with the dogs. As we get more daylight at dawn and dusk I'll probably start exploring further afield.

So far my garden list is 48 species. I've had some good ones, the highlights being Merlin, Waxwing, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Snipe amongst others, though I'm confident that will shoot up with time (I've only been here for 7 weeks so far) and I know I've missed several species such as Grey Heron, Whooper Swan and Barn Owl.
The footpaths to the south of the village have yielded Green Sandpiper, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Redshank, Barn Owl, Whooper Swan, Mute Swan and Goosander and are likely to produce much more too.

I've not really started to compile my full LDV bird list to date, though will work on it over the coming days. It won't be particularly long, but it will be a start and I'm planning on having plenty of time to increase it! I'm really excited about the potential of getting some good birds so close to home.

I'll also be spending quite a bit of time over at Flamborough Head during the spring after having a very enjoyable autumn over there finding a range of decent and half-decent birds including Rustic Bunting (twice), Barred Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler and Great Grey Shrike amongst others.

See October 2010 for Rustic Bunting details

Bubwith Ings for Lunch

I had to work from home today due to needing to be in to sign for an urgent package, luckily the package arrived at lunch time which meant I could nip the couple of miles down the road to Bubwith Ings, part of my new local patch within the Lower Derwent Valley for 30 minutes (I'll write a detailed post on my new local patch shortly).

I love having these sites so close to home, I can literally go out the front door and be having great birds in less than 5 minutes! (And still have time to get back, grab a sandwich and get back to work! - It certainly beats fighting the crowds at lunch most days when I'm in the office in York!)

I got out the car by Bubwith Bridge set my scope and started to scan the floods. A flock of Greylag geese and a single feral 'white farmyard' goose grazed nearby with tons of Eurasian Wigeon and Common Teal strung out for as far as I could see. Mixed amongst them were the dainty Gadwall, bold Mallard and the busily feeding Tufted Duck, however the highlight was certainly a decent number of Northern Pintail -I really love these ducks, generally I'm not a great fan of ducks (though I guess that may change with living here!) but I really can't get enough of Pintail. I can still remember getting my first ever Pintail all those years ago during a seawatch on the north Norfolk coast. Great fun to have them so close to home.

J.M. Garg (2007) from Wikipedia

Other bits and pieces noted included Lapwing, Moorhen and Coot and a range of gulls (though not a lot of them). On the way back home I pulled into a field entrance and scanned a flock of 21 Swans, all Mute, no sign of any Whoopers or the Black Swan either.

A great way to relax and recharge during my lunch break!

My dusk dog walk produced either one very wide-ranging, or two Barn Owls hunting ditches and 'wasteland'. Not as good views as I had on Sunday evening from the North Duffield Carrs but these were closer to my house - and give me hope that I may get one from the garden sometime in the future!

Interested to hear about the deceased American Purple Gallinule that turned up in someones garden yesterday: See Lee Evans Blog for details! Check your gardens people! STOP PRESS EDIT PHOTOS NOW HERE.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Beautiful Barn Owls and Brambling

The day finished with spectacular views of hunting Barn Owl at about 12 feet range at North Duffield Carrs Nature Reserve. I'd gone down to the reserve for the last hour of light. The Geoff Smith hide is about 1.2 miles from the front door of my new house so I made myself a cup of tea and headed across there.
On arrival at the site I noticed several Fieldfare and a few Redwings in the tree tops, a brief walk to the hide resulted in Dunnock, Wren, Blue Tit and several Tree Sparrow and a Reed Bunting all around the feeding station.

As I made myself comfortable in the hide I had a scan about the vast waterbodies (as the reserve looks now). Hundreds of Wigeon and Teal with plenty of Mallard and Pintail in rafts on the water and along the waters edge. Several Mute Swan, Greylag Goose and Canada Goose dotted about with 2 Grey Herons flying through. A few flocks of Lapwing were noted but I couldn't see anything else amongst them.

As the late afternoon came to a very overcast close a distant Barn Owl popped up, shortly followed by another bird, this time much closer, this bird almost flew into the hide it was so close! This bird was very showy, landing on the fence posts before dropping onto and catching a vole of some sort. Nice to see some alive birds after hearing all about the many Barn Owls that have perished due to the poor weather during December.

As darkness fell a couple of Moorhen flew in, followed by 2 groups of Swans, the first group was interesting, I'd hoped for Whoopers (knowing they were feeding in the fields near the reserve) however they were Mute Swans, with a single Black Swan! The Black Swan seemed very keen on one of the Mutes and 3 juvenile swans were very dark, maybe darker than I'd expect for pure Mute Swans - unless it was just that it was almost dark? The second group that came in were however Whoopers - and very vocal they were too!

A very enjoyable hour - nice to have it so close!

Other highlights today came in the form of a showy Red Kite near Whixley, and a fairly smart Brambling (very poor picture below - phone-binned through window with no support!)

Friday, 21 January 2011

Dusky Thrush!

Wow - what can you say but wow! An awesome bird! Check out the report/amazing photos here!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Geese and Harriers

An early start to get to my site for sunrise was hard work after staying up late to watch the Natural World documentary on Iraq - very interesting programme I thought - Basra Reed Warbler, Iraq Babbler, Marbled Duck and tons of other birds. It was mind-boggling to try and come to terms with the size of the Marsh they were talking about! A marsh the size of Wales!

Image © 2009.

Back to today and another day back in North Lincolnshire hoping for more than the last few days down there and it wasn't to disappoint with the clear highlight being a single Bean Goose that flew across my site looking rather confused, landed then proceeded to feed/roost up for a couple of hours before flying off to the north when spooked by a low flying plane.

A ring-tail Hen Harrier flew through around lunch time which was a good site bird. A flock of 40 Yellowhammer was nice, as was the 40+ Whooper Swans I found on my way home.

I'm in the office catching up with paperwork for a few days but hope to get out and do some local birding over the weekend if the weather is OK.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

More North Lincs

I've spent the last couple of days working in North Lincs, not a great deal of excitement really, two very different days weather wise, Monday overcast, damp and dreary, today clear, sunny and freezing cold! It was noticeable that several species, mainly Skylark, Robin and Dunnock were busy singing, with Buzzard and Sparrowhawk up displaying.

Target species were thin on the ground but several flocks of common wildfowl and waders such as Teal, Mallard, Golden Plover and Lapwing was pleasing but it was very hard going from all the hours spent there.

Decent numbers of Fieldfare were around today with the odd Redwing and Starling in with them, it was interesting to watch them bathing in a ditch. A 'flock' of 3 Treecreeper was enjoyable. There was some decent flocks of farmland birds such as Tree Sparrow, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer in with hundreds of Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch. Grey Partridge were also plentiful

Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit more eventful raptor-wise, and hopefully a bit warmer too!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A busy weekend!

No chasing mega rare gulls for me as I was at a wedding all weekend - and good fun it was too!

A couple of days surveying at the end of the week in Lincolnshire was uneventful bird wise, but enjoyable to catch 3 people hare coursing - the police chase was great fun!!

The only birds of interest this weekend were Red Kite at Spofforth and a Merlin near Whixley on the way to do the horse.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Another new garden bird

A party of 5 Brambling was a new species for my ever increasing garden list and was a nice surprise whilst working from home today. I had thought there seemed to be more Chaffinches in the village when I took the dogs on their morning walk.

Looking forward to some surveying tomorrow, the first time I've been out surveying for a while - taking a break from all the report writing.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Happy New Year!

It has been a while coming but Happy New Year! I've not been out birding much recently, hence the severe lack of blog posts, not helped by the house move resulting in over a month of no real internet connection.

Most of my birding has been in the garden where I've been getting my new feeding station established, the severe weather of the last month resulting in quite a few good garden birds including Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Waxwing, Snipe and Merlin all being recorded! The Goldcrest recorded on Friday was number 43.

Birding in the local area has so far been restricted to various dog walks but has resulted in Barn Owl, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Snipe and Jack Snipe.

Due to the poor weather I've been spending time sorting out my bird books (the Golden Oriole Poyser book being very interesting) and sorting out my next holiday, a couple of weeks in Cyprus in May should be interesting.

I'll hopefully be getting out and doing some proper birding in the next few weeks and will start up the regular posts soon.