Attenborough Nature Reserve – 23 Apr 2018

Today was my 300th birding excursion. Looking back over my records,  I noted that it’s almost 6 years since I started bird photography in earnest, which equates to approximately one outing per week. Currently, my total of wild birds photographed within the UK stands at 180, but it has become so much harder now that I’ve already snapped a high proportion of all the commonly-seen species. The two birds I most want to add to that total are Green Woodpecker and Dipper. Both are birds that I’ve previously seen in the wild, but not yet photographed. I hope it’s not another six years before that ambition is fulfilled!

For my visit today, I chose to go back to Attenborough Nature Reserve near Nottingham. Being only about 35 miles away, and straight down the M1 for most of it, Attenborough is an easy reserve for me to visit. The reserve itself is quite extensive, is comprised mostly of various bodies of water, and has an excellent reputation for the range of bird species seen there. I myself, have had a number of good successes with my bird photography at Attenborough, and very much hoped that today would be similarily productive.

Red Crested Pochard

A Red Crested Pochard by the Visitors’ Center

By now Spring is well underway, and a huge ‘wall’ of birdsong greeted me from the moment I stepped out of the car at the Visitors’ Center today. I could hear Chiffchaff, Cettis Warbler, Robin, Great Tit, Sedge Warbler, Blackbird and probably several more species that I was unable to identify.

On arrival at Attenborough, I always start by looking at the assorted waterbirds that are gathered outside the Visitors’ Center, awaiting kindly humans who are prepared to feed them. Today, there were the usual Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Tufted Duck and Mallards, but one thing that is particulary unusual about Attenborough is that these ‘regular’ birds that appear in this gathering outside the VC also regularly include somewhat more exotic species such as Red Crested Pochard and Egyptian Goose. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever visited Attenborough without seeing these two species. The only other reserve where I’ve ever seen Red Crested Pochards is Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk, and those birds keep themselves well-distant from humans. Not so at Attenborough where the bird I saw today was quite tame, (only about six feet away from where I was standing), and appeared to be completely unconcerned about my presence.

After photographing the Red Crested Pochard, I decided to go through the Visitors’ Center and out the back entrance to visit the bird hide which overlooks Coneries Pond. This hide is immediately adjacent to the Sand Martin nesting wall, which today, was being made full-use of. There were Sand Martins buzzing about all over the lake in front of the hide, and regularly returning to their nests with food for their young. I spent about fifteen minutes trying my best to photograph this spectacle, but Sand Martins are such fast fliers, which dart both into and out-of their nesting holes, that it’s nearly impossible to capture a bird, which is both entirely within the frame of the photograph and in any sort of decent focus! However, as I keep telling myself, if it wasn’t a challenge I wouldn’t be doing it!

After my encounter with the Sand Martins, I next wanted to walk down the path leading towards Clifton Pond and its elevated hide. As I walked down the path there were birds singing everywhere – but could I spot even one of the little blighters…..? Grrr!

As I walked along the spit of land adjacent to the Wheatear Field, a really loud Sedge Warbler was singing just the other side of the hedge. (The Sedge Warbler’s song is without doubt my favourite birdsong). But, as before, the bird was nowhere to be seen…. double-grrr!

Tufted Ducks

A flight of Tufted Ducks arriving at Clifton Pond

I climbed up the two flights of steps and settled myself into the elevated bird hide, which affords an excellent view, both to the North, over Tween Pond and to the South over Clifton Pond. On a previous occasion whilst sitting in this hide, I was treated to a rather good view of a Water Rail, dabbling about in the reeds quite near the hide on the Clifton Pond side. Now, whilst I didn’t have a repeat of that experience today, I did, for the briefest second or two, spot a Bittern coming in to land in amongst the reeds. It was all over far too quickly for me to have time to react and raise my camera, and indeed, the several other birders present in the hide failed to spot the bird at all! I was nonetheless enthralled to have had only my second-ever Bittern sighting.

About six feet from where I was sitting up high in the elevated hide, a pair of Great Tits took up perches at the top of a hawthorn tree and began singing really loudly, right in front of me. I took a great many shots of these birds, given such a glorious opportunity, and with such willing models!

Great Tit

This fabulous Great Tit took up a perch just about six feet from me and burst into song.

After about half an hour, hoping that the Bittern might fly up out of the reeds again (without success!), I decided to try my luck along at the Kingfisher Hide, which also overlooks Clifton Pond. As I took up my position in the hide, I discovered a Gey Heron standing quite still, in the shallows just in front of the hide, watching for any tell-tale movement of something it could spear with its long, razor-sharp beak. I eased up the window into the locked-open position as carefully, and quietly as I could, trying my very best not to spook the bird. I managed to take a few pictures of the bird before it decided that I was enough of a threat to cause it to fly-off!

After leaving the hide I made my way back up the path, back towards the Visitors’ Center and the Car Park. There were still loads of birds singing all around me as I walked along the path. This time I had a bit more success with sightings – a Robin and a Great Tit! Nice birds, of course, but where on Earth are all the Blackcaps, Reed Warblers and Whitethroats when you want to photograph them?? A Cettis Warbler was once again tantalizingly-close to where I passed it, but, as usual, Cettis are far more frequently heard than seen!

Attenborough is a super reserve, which is always worth visiting. One day I’ll get a really good, clear, long sighting of a Bittern. Today could so easily have been the day. Perhaps next time….

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Alkborough Flats – 21 Apr 2018

Today I made a return visit to Alkborough Flats in Lincolnshire. I first visited here about a year ago and have meant to come back ever since. The reserve is only about one and a half kilometers away from Blacktoft Sands, as the crow flies (well, any bird really!), but as it’s on the opposite bank of the Ouse/Trent/Humber confluence it’s over twenty-two miles away by car and takes around 50 minutes driving according to Google Maps.

I arrived at the reserve around 12.30pm and parked in the car park at the bottom of Prospect Lane, which comes down the hill from the village church. As soon as I stepped out of the car I could hear lots of different birds singing in the trees around me. One of the most distinctive I heard was that of my first Chiffchaff of the year, with its eponymous ‘chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff’ sound.

Almost as soon as I started up the path towards Prospect Hide, I heard a distant Bittern booming in the reeds. As it turned out, I was to hear this bird booming throughout my visit to the reserve today – usually in a pattern of three booms on each occasion. It would have been wonderful to have seen the bird too, of course, but it’s nonetheless enthralling to experience its deep, throaty booming call, which is very reminiscent of the sound you get when you blow across the top of an old-fashioned milkbottle.

I was immediately a bit disappointed when I entered Prospect Hide and looked out of the windows. For one thing, the water level was much higher than on my previous visit, which inevitably reduces the chances of lots of waders being present. Also, the reeds which had been quite close to the hide itself on my previous visit, had been radically cut back. Whilst that meant that a much wider field of view was now possible, it cut-down the prospect of seeing Bearded Tits flitting across the front of the hide, which I was thrilled to see at least twice last time I visited.

However, within a few seconds of this minor disappointment, I noted that a lone Spoonbill was snoozing out on the water about two hundred yards from me. Also, on closer inspection, I realised that it had an attendant collection of waders standing nearby. Most of the waders were Spotted Redshanks, but a single Greenshank promptly flew in and joined them. A number of Avocet were also sprinkled around the lake.

Spoonbill 01

A Spoonbill, with accompanying Greenshank and a group of Spotted Redshank

Spoonbill 02

At last – the Spoonbill is awake and showing its dramatic bill!

Over the course of the next hour and a half, whilst I was in the hide, the Spoonbill periodically untucked its long bill from under its feathers and briefly took note of its surroundings. However, its feet didn’t budge at all from where they were firmly planted in the mud during the entire time I was in the hide.

I struck-up conversation with another birder who told me that he had relocated to this hide from another part of the reserve because he had seen a pair of Common Crane drop down into the reeds at the far side of the lake from the hide, and so we both waited patiently in the hope of catching a sighting of these massive birds. Apparently, a large number of Cranes have arrived in this general area in recent days and numerous sightings have been recorded throughout the region.

Alas, it was not to be. After about 90 minutes my rear end was quite numb and I needed to stretch my legs, so I left the hide and walked further up the path. Alongside the path is an extensive reedbed on one side, and an arable field on the other. I heard several Sedge Warblers whch were close to where I was passing, but had no sightings today!

Reed Bunting

A male Reed Bunting keeps a close eye on me!

As I walked further along the path, I came upon a group of birders, with their binoculars trained on the arable field. As I approached them, I asked what it was that they had found, and was delighted to have my attention directed to where a beautiful Wheatear was grazing in the field. The bird was about 80-90 yards away and was beautifully camouflaged. One of those birders must have had extraordinarily good eyesight to spot it in the first place! I took a few rather distant photographs of the bird before I lost sight of it in the distance.

Wheatear

A lovely Wheatear in the field alongside the main path

It was becoming slightly breezy now, so I decided to head back to the car. As I walked back down the path, I continued to hear the booming of the Bittern and the melodious, rambling singing of Sedge Warblers; this is definitely my favourite time in the birding calendar!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Old Moor – 19 Apr 2018

It was Old Moor that I visited today, on a scorching hot day. The temperature was up about 28°C and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was only about four weeks ago that we had heavy snow – what a contrast!

There were birds singing everywhere at Old Moor today; the mere was resounding to the raucous cacophony of hundreds and hundreds of Black Headed Gulls, (which have taken over every island on the main Mere, as per usual during their breeding season), and there were lots of small birds calling from the trees and bushes up Green Lane. I heard: Robin, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Willow Warbler and Blackcap for definite, and possibly some others too. I would have liked to have been able to add Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler to that list, but alas, not today.

Chaffinch

This Chaffinch was enjoyng the afternoon sunshine

I started my visit in the family Hide today, and surveyed the massed Black Headed Gulls first of all – what an absolute racket they make! There were a few other birds around: a couple of Tufted Ducks out on the water, and a lone, Lesser Black Backed Gull which was patrolling the mere, trying to avoid being harried by the smaller BH Gulls.

Moving to the Field Pool West Hide, I was amazed to discover how high the water levels currently are at Old Moor. The shore of the mere farthest from the hide was at least 150 yards farther away than usual, with no sign of the ‘beach’ that is usually there. The grasslands that are usually present are currently completely submerged.

A couple of Gadwall and a Little Grebe entertained me for a while, but it was just too hot to stay long in this hide today, with the sunshine streaming straight in the window!

Next I walked further up Green Lane and decided to visit Field Pool East Hide. Here the stars of the show today were a fabulous pair of Shelduck which were on the water, near the front of the hide. They looked great in the lovely sunshine as they lazily swam circles around each other. Not behaving with quite the same level of decorum were a trio of Coot, which were having something of a disagreement about who’s girlfriend was who’s, (or something like that!). With both male and female Coot having identical plumage, it was difficult to tell one from the other, and the spat, although brief, was quite ferocious while it lasted. In the end, one bird gave up the contest and swam off. Peace and calm returned to the Mere!

From Wath Ings Hide, I watched a drake Gadwall bathing and preening himself for at least fifteen minutes. There were a number of female Gadwall around, so I can only hope his endeavours met with their approval!

Next I visited the Wader Scrape Hide, which was once again, dominated by Black Headed Gulls. A few other birds were around, most noticeably a Cormorant which was fishing between the islands of the Mere, and a lone Canada Goose which was sitting-tight on its nest on a small island, which was otherwise covered in BH Gulls. I couldn’t help but wonder what the Canada Goose thought of its noisy neighbours! I can’t see the birds having a very easy time of it when they have a number of goslings to look after on this tiny, hopelessy-crowded island which was only about 20-30 square meters in size!

Magpie

“Oi mate, are you even listening to me?”

I spent a few minutes in the bird garden before I left Old Moor today, during which tine I photographed a few Chaffinches, a pair of Bullfinches and a Reed Bunting visiting the feeders.

A visit to Old Moor is always worthwhile. Next time I visit, I must head round the Reedbed Trail for a change – I’ll probably have more chance of seeing my favourite warblers amongst the reedbeds. I’ve read that the resident Bitterns are booming there nicely just now, and the Bearded Tits have been showing themselves recently. What more incentive would I need than that?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Frampton Marsh – 16 Apr 2018

Frampton Marsh, near Boston in Lincolnshire, is easily one of the best RSPB reserves I’ve ever visited, and definitely belongs in my ‘top-triumvirate’ favourite reserves along with Titchwell Marsh and Minsmere.

Frampton is about 80 miles away from home for me, and is thus quite ‘do-able’ as a day visit, (whereas the other two are significantly farther-away and necessitate an overnight stop). This fact makes it all the more strange that today’s visit to Frampton was my first in nearly eighteen months. Quite how I’d managed to leave it so long since my last visit, in December 2016, is something of a mystery, even to me!

Anyway, it was fairly mild at the reserve today, a bit breezy, but there were a good many sunny spells, and it was around 12-15ºc, so quite comfortable for the time of year.

Skylark

This skylark was only a few feet away from me at the 360 Hide

Frampton is a superb reserve for waders, (one of my two favourite groups of birds, along with warblers), and I was excited about the possibilities that today might bring.

By far the best hide at Frampton, in my opinion, is the 360 Hide. This hide, which is at the end of a spit of land jutting-out onto a vast area of freshwater marsh, affords excellent views over a huge expanse of the reserve, with the water’s edge only about ten feet in front of the hide on the south-west facing side.

During past visits to this hide, I have had some amazing close-up views of a variety of birds, including Ruff, Curlew, Skylark, Avocet and Pintail. With this in mind, it’s probably not surprising that I made a bee-line for the 360 Hide first today!

On entering any circular-shaped bird-hide that already has other birders present, it’s always immediately apparent where the ‘good stuff’ is located by where the others birders are congregated. Today, as I walked into the hide, most of the birders present were seated by the windows facing north-east, where the sun was shining beautifully on literally thousands of assorted waders feeding out on the marsh.

I quickly sat down, pointed my camera lens out the window and began to survey the scene before me. There were huge numbers of Avocet, Black-Tailed Godwit and Brent Geese along with other, less-numerous species including: Ruff, Dunlin, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Wagtail and the ubiquitous Black Headed Gull.

Just as I was wrestling with the dilemma of where to point my camera first, a sudden movement out the corner of my eye alerted me to a pair of Skylarks which were, well – ‘larking-about’ on the grass bank just in front of me. The two birds were alternately on and just above the ground, and were squabbling with each other just a few feet from where I was sitting. I quickly fired-off a few shots of these magnificent birds which are rarely-seen so close-up.

Pied Wagtail

A beautiful Pied Wagtail keeps a watchful eye…

The next focus of my attention was a Little Ringed Plover which was darting about on the edge of the mudflat just near to where I was sitting. I watched with bated-breath as the bird came ever closer, allowing me to take a good many shots of this tiny wader, with the sunshine showing-off his plumage to great effect. A few moments later I had a very similar experience with the closely-related Ringed Plover, which also provided me with the opportunity to capture some close-up images for a good session of ‘compare and contrast’ the characteristics of the two species.

Little Ringed Plover

A Little Ringed Plover from 360 Hide

Ringed Plover

A Ringed Plover on the mud outside 360 Hide

After  spending about forty-five minutes in the 360 Hide, I decided to walk to the East Hide, which is also an excellent hide for seeing waders. As I walked along the path towards the hide, I marvelled at the sheer numbers of waders on the reserve. Being adjacent to the Wash and its vast salt marshes, Frampton is an absolute magnet for hundreds of thousands of birds each year. In the far distance, I could see a huge flock of Brent Geese flying over the reserve. During Helen’s and my very first visit to Frampton, nearly four years ago, we were walking along the ‘sea wall’ which separates the reserve from the salt marsh, when flock after flock of ‘Brenties’ came in over our heads and was very reminiscent of old, World War 2 newsreels showing ‘thousand bomber’ raids.

I spent the next half hour or so in the East Hide, this time photographing some Avocet and a Redshank, which were feeding in the mud near to the hide. Once again I saw some Little Ringed Plovers darting about near the water’s edge.

On leaving the hide, I decided against walking all the way along the sea wall, as the breeze was ever-strengthening, and I was still about a kilometer away from the Visitor Centre car park (and the toilet!). I took a brief detour up part of the Reedbed Trail as I had heard from another birder that a Corn Bunting was ‘singing its little heart out’ on a bush near the path. I was lucky-enough to photograph a Corn Bunting here once before, so knew precisely where the bird was likely to be. Sadly, I couldn’t see any sign of the Corn Bunting today, but I did watch a Kestrel hovering above the trail keenly watching the ground for any tell-tale movements….

Little Ringed Plovers

A pair of Little Ringed Plovers at East Hide

As I was passing there anyway, I couldn’t resist spending another half-hour in the 360 Hide – well, I had come 80 miles for this, after all! The same birds were there as before, of course, and I spent my time taking even more photos of Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers.

It was some reluctance that I finally decided I’d better head back to the car and begin the long drive home.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blacktoft Sands – 05 April 2018

It was back to Blacktoft today, for the first time since January 7th. It was a beautiful and sunny, Spring day – easily the nicest weather of the year so far!

After all the rotten weather we’ve been having over the Winter (which has been so reluctant to go away!), it was a great relief to walk around the reserve today and witness many of the signs of Spring’s long-awaited arrival: trees in bud, flying insects (including a butterfly I wasn’t quick-enough to identify), and many woodland birds chirping-away in the trees establishing territories and calling for mates.

Robin

Today’s Reserve ‘Greeter’ was this lovely Robin

Several times today I heard the distinctive singing of (year-round-resident) Cettis Warblers, including one really loud one which can only have been a few feet away from me as I approached the door of Marshland Hide. It gave me quite a start when it struck-up its unmistakable, syncopated song!

There are, as yet however, no signs at Blacktoft so far this year of my favourite birds – the Summer-visiting Warblers. I particularly love photographing Sedge Warblers, sitting atop the reeds, performing their extended, rambling song. Blacktoft is a great location for Sedgies and other Warblers such as Reed Warblers, Grasshopper Warblers, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff, which usully arrive around the beginning of May. Trying to photograph them is extremely challenging, but very much worth the effort when it (occasionally!) pays-off.

The first hide I visited today was Singleton Hide. Over the last few days I’d been reading the Blacktoft blog, and this particular passage from the 3rd of April inspired me to visit: ‘The marsh harriers continue to perform, with the airways over the reserve chock-a-block this morning as birds chased, fought, mated and displayed to and with each other’. In over thirty visits to Blacktoft, I’ve only ever once failed to see even a single Marsh Harrier, so I felt confident of some good sightings of these magnificent raptors.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed – there were indeed a great many Marsh Harriers about, soaring high over the reedbeds in the sunshine, sometimes singly and sometimes in pairs, and I enjoyed snapping away at them from each of the three hides which lie to the East of the Reserve: Singleton, Townend and First. Rarely do they come close-enough in to the hides to provide a frame-filling image, but they still make a fantastic photograph just the same.

Moving along to the Western end of the reserve I spent a good forty-five minutes or so in Marshland Hide where I photographed a pair of Winter-visiting Goldeneye dabbling-about on the lagoon. Occasionally, the male would (briefly) perform his courtship-display posturing, but the female seemed too pre-occupied with ducking for food and ignored him completely!

DSC_1687

Mr & Mrs Goldeneye

Goldeneye

Stages of courtship posturing – male Goldeneye

I spent the last few minutes of my visit to Blacktoft today in Xerox Hide, one of the two double-decker hides at this reserve, which affords really good views of the lagoon it overlooks. Birds present included two lovely Oystercatchers feeding on the mudbank nearest the hide, and an assortment of water-fowl including: Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Coot, Moorhen and Little Grebe. My final photographs of the day were of a Grey Heron catching and swallowing a fish, with nice sunlight illuminating it.

Oystercatcher & Teal

What did the Oystercatcher say to the Teal?…

That made me realise it was nearly tea-time for me too, so I made my way back to the car feeling happy with my day’s birding.

Now all I need is for the Blacktoft blog to announce the arrival of some warblers and I’ll be back asap!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Middleton Lakes – 04 Mar 2018

Today I made a much-anticipated return visit to the RSPB’s reserve at Middleton Lakes, near Tamworth in Warwickshire. It was a balmy July afternoon when Helen and I paid our first visit there last year. Conditions were somewhat different today with the last vestiges of the recent very heavy snowfalls which have caused so much chaos in the UK, still present. Finally, by today a very welcome thaw was now underway, and the worst I had to put up with during this visit to the reserve was a rather slushy footpath and the occasional puddle to avoid! The temperture was about 7ºc – about 7-8 degrees warmer than over the previous few days!

Leaving the car park, and starting on the trail, I first saw the Heronry, which had a number of Herons in residence. With somewhere in the region of 25 nests, however, it will get very much busier in the next few weeks when the breeding seasons gets underway.

I next stopped at the viewing screen where the bird feeders are. The feeders are by the edge of a pond which today was still frozen solid from the recent very cold spell. A good many garden birds were present, and the seed in the feeders was going quickly. Several Mallards, a couple of Coot and a Moorhen were scrabbling about under the feeders for the seed which was falling from above. Right in the middle of the group, however, was a Water Rail. It’s always a joy to see one of these usually very reclusive and shy birds, and I snapped dozens of images of it in the hope of getting that ‘perfect shot’. What a great start to the visit!

Water Rail

A fabulous Water Rail – not often seen!

Further up the path leading to Fisher’s Mill Bridge, I stopped at the viewing platform which juts-out onto the lake. The lake itself was completely frozen-over, and the only birds I could see on the ice were a couple of dozing Mallard with their heads tucked under their wings. However, this was still a good spot to be at today because some kind soul had liberally sprinkled bird seed on a nearby tree-stump. Over the next few minutes I took photographs of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins, a lone Coal Tit and a couple of Nuthatch that took turns to snatch some seed whilst I stood there snapping-away with my camera.

Further up the path I reached Fisher’s Mill Bridge which spans the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. At this spot on our last visit, Helen and I were lucky-enough to hear a Green Woodpecker ‘yaffling’ in the trees. We caught a very brief glimpse of the bird flying overhead but were unable to manage a photograph of it. The trees were very different today, being devoid of foliage. Nonetheless, I did hear a brief ‘yaffle’, so I knew a Green Woodpecker was still out there somewhere.

Nuthatch

A very smart Nuthatch

Fisher’s Mill Pool was frozen-over but a number of Black-Headed Gulls were making a lot of noise on the islands in the lake. A couple of Mute Swans were standing on the ice way over at the far-side of the lake. Otherwise, I couldn’t see any other birds. I walked as far as the viewing screen which overlooks the Jubilee Wetlands, but again there were very few birds around.

Walking back the way I had come, I stopped at the edge of a field of stubble near Fisher’s Mill Bridge and saw a couple of Redwing picking over the stubble. I took a couple of photographs,  but the birds were rather too distant to allow a decent shot. Nevertheless, it was pleasing to see some of these Winter visitors.

Almost back at the feeders near the car park, I stopped again to look over a grassy field near the farm buildings there. Again I spotted some Redwings along with a Song Thrush. This time the Redwings were a bit closer to me, but again not really close-enough for a good photograph.

I was glad to be back near the car, because the heavens suddenly opened and my visit today ended with me dashing to the car to get out of the rain! I wasn’t upset though because I knew I’d got some great shots of a Water Rail and a Nuthatch in the bag.

For my next visit to Middleton Lakes I want to go in the Spring time when, hopefully, there will be lots of warblers around.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Attenborough Nature Reserve – 03 Mar 2018

It’s been over two years since my last visit to Attenborough Nature Reserve near Nottingham. It was a freezing-cold Wintery day today, with snow still lying on the ground following the ‘Beast from the East’ freezing spell Britain has been enduring this last few days.

I carefully inched my way over the compacted snow and ice which covered the ground in the car park, and made my way over to the Visitor’s Center first of all. Despite the cold weather, there were a surprising number of people out and about today (it was a Saturday after all), and many people were enjoying watching the very tame birds on the margins of the Coneries Pond, outside the visitor’s center. A number of species were present, including Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Mallard, Egyptian Goose, Tufted Duck and a lone Red Crested Pochard. I’d seen the Red Crested Pochard here before, and rather think that it is a permanent resident – perhaps it thinks it’s a Mallard??

Next I started down the path which separates the Coneries Pond from the Tween Pond. As I crossed over the bridge at the start of the path, a fellow birder told me a ‘lovely Kingfisher’ was to be seen in a bush down below the bridge. I watched closely for about five minutes at the spot he had indicated, but alas, no Kingfisher sighting for me today! Sidenote: I really appreciate the fact that birders are such a sharing community, always willing to talk and share experiences. That’s one of the things that really makes the hobby special for me.

As I carried-on down the path, I spied (and heard) various birds on the water and in the trees around me. Numerous, very confiding Robins were around, hoping for ‘handouts’ from visitors like me. I saw one couple trying to coax a Robin to take seed from their hands and was reminded of the time at Leighton Moss a couple of Winters ago, when Helen and I managed to achieve that rather special experience.

On the Tween Pond were a couple of Great Crested Grebes ducking under the water in search of fish, and a great many Tufted Ducks, Mute Swans and Canada Geese were also present.

Heron

A Heron watches for a meal

I walked as far as the Kingfisher Hide and spent a few frozen minutes in there before I decided I was simply mad to be there on a such a freezing day, and set-off back up the path. On the way back I took some photographs of a Heron which was hunting in a meadow-type field, rather unusually, and a Pied Wagtail scrabbling around on the path in front of me.

All in, I was only on the reserve for about forty minutes, but I saw over twenty bird species in that time. I’m looking forward to visiting Attenborough again – but only once the Spring has come!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Old Moor – 16 Feb 2018

My secong birding trip in as many days took me back to Old Moor for the first time in about five months. It was good to be back at what I consider to be my ‘home’ reserve.

It was a mild day for February at about 7°c and quite bright when I arrived. Fortunately, the winds that had been blowing over the last 24 hours or so had finally abated so conditions were very good.

My first port of call for the day was into the Bird Garden Hide. Lots of little birds were visiting the feeders today, and I was very pleased with some of my shots – especially ones I took of a beautiful little Long Tailed Tit – one of my favourite birds. It was half-term week in Barnsley and Rotherham schools this week and the hide was quite noisy with lots of excited kids squealing about what birds they had seen. After about quarter of an hour I decided to move on. One rather exasperated-looking mum mouthed a silent apology to me as I left the hide, but I reassured her that, as both a Grandparent and a Primary School teacher, I was well-used to noisy munchkins!

I next visit the recently revamped Tree Sparrow Farm. I’d long felt that the viewing screen here could do with improvement, and at last it has been done. The viewing gaps are now much enlarged and better-positioned, making it far easier to see what’s going on, and to poke long camera lenses at the birds. A huge improvement, and much appreciated!

As well as noticing the much improved facilities at the Tree Sparrow Farm on arrival, I also quickly noticed that a Kestrel was perched on top of one of the posts to the left of the viewing screen only about fifteen yards or so away. This, I took to be ‘Red’, the Kestrel-in-Residence that has been showing brilliantly on the reserve for some time now. I was very pleased to be able to take a number of photos of the bird before it flew off.

Shoveler

A male Shoveler on the main mere today

Next, I walked up Green Lane where I visited the Family Hide, Field Pool East, Wath Ings and the Wader Scrape. The water levels on the main mere were quite high today, so sadly there were no waders to be found anywhere on the reserve. I did see a number of other birds including a good many Shoveler, Canada Geese, Swans, Widgeon and a lone female Goosander from the Wader Scrape Hide.

Kestrel

‘Red’ the Kestrel has been in residence at Old Moor for some time now.

By the time I returned down Green Lane, the sky had gone rather dull and lifeless. This was a real shame as Red the Kestrel was sitting at the top of a tree near the Bird Garden Hide this time. I took several photos, but the dull sky made it difficult to bring out detail of the birds feathers.

I decided it was time to call it a day and headed back to the car. I certainly hope it won’t be another five months before I return to Old Moor!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

North Cave – 15 Feb 2018

179 – Green Winged Teal

Green Winged Teal

A rare Green-Winged Teal visiting our shores. Noticeably different from the Common Teals around it by the vertical white bar on its side and the lack of horizontal white lower scapular feathers.

Helen and I made a short visit to North Cave Wetlands today – our first visit there for about eighteen months.

It was a sunny (but windy) February day, so we went wrapped-up warmly against the cold. I’d read the recent sightings blog online and noted that a Green Winged Teal had been around the reserve for the previous few days, and I hoped that we were in with a chance of spotting it.

After parkng in Dryham Lane, Helen and I walked into the (covered) viewing platform which looks Northwards over Village Lake. In the past, a number of feeders had been strung up across a ‘goal-post like’ structure about twenty feet in-front of the platform. We were dismayed to discover today, that this system is no longer there now. We’ve seen lots of good birds there in the past including: Brambling, Siskin and large flocks of Chaffinch.

The feeders haven’t been completely removed however, now they have been attached directly to the upright beams of the viewing platform itself. On one hand this allows much closer viewing of less-timid birds (there were loads of Long Tailed Tits around here today), but it does mean that there is much less chance of seeing Bramblings for instance, which prefer to feed on the ground below feeders, picking up the seeds which have fallen from above.

Because the feeders were nearly empty today, I nipped back to the car and returned with a large quantity of birdseed that I just happen to have in the boot. I sprinkled it liberally on all the horizontal surfaces I could find, and within two minutes Helen and I were snapping away at a Robin, a Blue Tit and a Great Tit. The lighting was really good and we were pleased with our efforts.

Next we walked along the North Path which takes us to East Hide and thence the Tower Hide. The East hide looks directly onto Village Lake, and it is here that there is always a huge conglomeration of waterfowl. Was the elusive Green Winged Teal amongst this throng, I wondered?

There were so many assorted birds here (Teal, Wigeon, Redshank, Mallard, Coot, Swans etc), and they are somewhat distant from the hide, so it was difficult trying to spot one particular bird. I decided to adopt the ‘splatter-gun’ approach and take several photos in the hope of being able to identify the GWT later-on at home in the comfort of my armchair!

Village Lake

Any sign of the green Winged Teal?? Anyone….

It was blowing quite a gale into our faces in the East Hide, so we left after about fifteen minutes and moved on to the Tower Hide. This is an exciting hide being in an elevated position with a near 360° view over the most of the reserve. On our last visit here Helen and I were treated to a spectacular hunting-display by a Barn Owl that was quite close to the hide. As we watched it quartering the landscape it was suddenly chased-off by a Sparrowhawk – wow!

There were no Barn Owls or Sparrowhawks to be seen here today, but there was the Green Winged Teal in all its glory, sitting with a group of ordinary (Eurasian) Teal near the far bank. Whoopee – my first new bird in thirteen months!

Green Winged Teal

The Green Winged Teal on the Main Lake

I made sure I took quite a few shots of the bird. It was busy preening itself, completely unaware of the paparazzo treatment it was receiving!

As we left the hide a flock of Linnets flew overhead, but they were much too fast to magage to capture a meaningful photograph of them. However, it was a nice way to end our brief, but productive visit to North Cave. I really do like this reserve, and will be back again in the Spring.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blacktoft Sands – 07 Jan 2018

After a three month hiatus in our birding trips, Helen and I made a very welcome visit to Blacktoft Sands today.

It was a beautiful (if cold) January afternoon, with barely a cloud in the sky. On arrival we discovered a bus-load of visiting birders had come-up from the Leicester area for the day – no doubt hoping for a glimpse of the recently-returned Hen Harriers.

Helen and I decided to walk up to Marshlands Hide first. It’s one of my favourites at Blacktoft, and the scene of many great bird sightings over my 30 visits to this reserve. Unfortunately, today was a disappointment; a single, distant Shelduck and a juvenile Little Grebe were the only birds that we spotted here today. I scoured the distant reeds, as I generally do here, trying to spot some Bearded Tits, but none presented themselves today. Our next ports of call to Xerox Hide and First Hide were similarly bereft of avian-life today. I did manage to grab a few shots of Magpies and Woodpigeons flying across the front of the hides with lovely sunshine on them, but there wasn’t much else to get excited about today.

By the time we reached Singleton Hide at the bottom of the trail, we had finally caught-up with all the visiting birders. Singleton was absolutley packed to the point where it was standing room only. This is not uncommon for Singleton, as it’s easily the best location for spotting all the varieties of Harriers that are present at Blacktoft.

True to form, we didn’t have to wait long to see our first Marsh Harriers of 2018. A number of them were coming in to roost, with at times up to four of them in one tree!

It’s always very exciting to watch these magnificent raptors as they soar above the reeds in search of their prey. A quick bit of memory recall reminded me that out of 30 visits to Blacktoft Sands, I have only failed to see any ‘Marshies’ on one single visit so far.

Marsh Harriers

A number of Tree Sparrows and assorted other garden birds were very voluble at the feeders as we took our leave of the reserve. I scoured the trees in this area for Fieldfares and Redwings, but alas, none were to be found today.

We had a lovely walk around Blacktoft Sands, despite the paucity of bird-life, and we were glad to feel the fresh air in our lungs at the start of what will hopefully be another exciting birding-year.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment