Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Big British Birding Year: Part IX (one Bittern, twice shy)

Look at this wonderful shot of a Bittern:

Eurasian Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)

Eurasian Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)

This is one of around 600 Bitterns that can be found in the UK during winter. It is a member of the Heron famil… I’m sorry, what’s that? You can’t see a Bittern? Don’t be ridiculous! Look harder!… Oh, alright… it isn’t visible. But, it is there, honest! I had a good view of it through a fellow birder’s scope and was attaching my iPhone via a special contraption to photograph it when it moved deeper into the reeds and then as with Keyser Soze “like that… he’s gone”

So, despite seeing the Bittern, I am not counting it in my year total as I don’t have a photo and … them’s the rules.

Generally, I seem to be going through a difficult patch as my morning at the London Wetland Centre didn’t uncover anything unusual. Luckily, I did still manage to add one bird to my year list. Meet my 62nd bird of the year…

Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)

Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)

Just look at the bruiser! Despite being a long distance from me (hence the quality), it was clearly a GBBG. You are looking at the largest gull in the world and it absolutely dwarfs the lapwing next to it. They are not just big, they are dangerous. The GBBG is, in some environments, an apex predator and acts more like a raptor than a gull. Without talons or a sharp bill, the GBBG normally swallows its prey whole or, when it goes after big prey (rats, puffins, even lambs!) it will often shake things to death and to pieces.

Whilst I hope to have a little more luck on my next trip, I still feel a sense of privilege to have seen a Bittern, heard an early Song Thrush (which also avoided my camera) and photographed the largest gull in the world.

Advertisements

A Big British Birding Year: Part VIII (61st or 1st?)

Almost a year ago, I visited Staines reservoirs and blogged about my frustration at not seeing anything ‘special’.

Being a glutton for punishment, I went back there this weekend. Despite being less than 20 miles from where I live (as the crow flies), and still inside the M25 (just!), it is a pain in the backside to get there by public transport – in brief: a 15 minute walk; then a 20 minute Tube journey; then a 40 minute train journey; then a change and a 5 minute train journey back in the direction I just came from; and then, a 20 minute walk through suburban dreariness (apologies if you live there, but I was feeling a bit jaded after all the travelling).

But, the sun was shining – it really was a beautiful day, and I was ready to add some rare birds to my year’s list…

Staines resevoirs

According to bird alerts on Twitter (yes, I really am at High Wizard levels of geekiness) the birds seen at Staines reservoirs on Sunday included rarities such as Great Northern Diver, Scaup, Mediterranean Gull, Slavonian Grebe, and Black-necked Grebe. I think they must have been on their tea break while I was there as I didn’t see anything even vaguely close to being that unusual. I walked along the narrow causeway in between the iron fencing and took a few snaps of incredibly common, but beautiful, birds such as:

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Despite peering through magnified lenses into the distance and being trigger happy with every gull that flew past, I saw nothing that I haven’t already seen so far this year. My second visit to Staines, and my second ‘dip’.

I walked out from the other end of causeway for the ‘delightful’ (in this instance, inverted commas mean “sarcasm” in case you hadn’t picked that up) journey back beginning, this time, with a 20 minute walk on the verge of a dual carriageway.

As vehicles rushed past me, I tried to cheer myself up taking pictures of anything that had feathers and moved, including:

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

and…

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

But then, another winter thrush took off from a bush by the road, and this time, one that I had not photographed this year. Whilst I only just caught it in time, and the photo is not very clear, Staines did deliver my 61st bird species of the year:

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

Whilst not particularly unusual, the fieldfare holds a special place in my heart, because it could be said to be the bird that made me a birdwatcher… when I was about 17, I was looking out of my bedroom window and realised I had no idea what the strange bird gorging on berries was in my garden; it looked like a strange cross between a pigeon and a thrush. I dusted off an old bird book I had been given many years before and identified it as a Fieldfare, noting it down as the start of my first ever bird list for good measure … a birder was born.

On my way home from Staines, I stopped off at Richmond, spent a humiliatingly long time even getting into the park as I inexplicably got stuck in a cemetery (don’t ask!) before walking rather aimlessly around the enormous park dodging dog-walkers, runners, cyclists, and cars and failing again to see any new birds, although I was quite pleased to get close to…

Rose-ringed (or ring-necked) Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

Rose-ringed (or ring-necked) Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

…and…

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

You could tell the birding had not gone well when I even joined the tourists (I generally have an almost misanthropic repulsion to be even within screaming distance of another human when I am out birding) to queue and take photos of the clearing in the bushes made for a view of St Paul’s Cathedral from King Henry’s mound (Richmond is an astonishing 10 miles away from Wren’s masterpiece):

St Paul's

As I walked back down the hill (avoiding any cemeteries this time) to start the long tube journey back from west London, I reflected on what had been a frustrating, but not altogether unsuccessful, birding trip. As my wife later sagely reminded me, it is partly the frustrations, the obstacles, and the fruitless walks and waits which makes the successes in birding seem even more enjoyable and sought after.

Also, with views like these, as on the start of my journey home, I shouldn’t really be complaining:

Richmond

A Big British Birding Year: Part VII (60/40)

Today is the 40th day of the year.

Today I photographed my 60th species of bird this year.

It is a common garden bird that I have been surprised not to have seen until now. So, I was delighted that the 60th species should turn up in the garden of my London flat.

European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)

European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)

A Big British Birding Year: Part VI (Oh Sandy!)

This weekend my quest to photograph more species of bird took me to one of the spiritual homes of birding: the RSPB HQ at Sandy in Bedfordshire.

Despite being deep inland, it is Sandy by name and sandy by nature; largely covered with heathland:

Heath

Although also with beautiful birch…

Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

… and other, mixed, woodland…

Woodland

It was walking through these woods that I saw one of our introduced mammals, descended from a few escapees from private collections from the 19th century onwards…

Reeves' Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi)

Reeves’ Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi)

They are the oldest known deer species, appearing in Europe up to 35 million years ago.

Muntjacs were not the only introduced species I snapped at Sandy. Two more, also additions to my bird list for the year, were:

Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

… and the more naturalised…

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)

Other birds I added to my year-list were:

Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

… and the rather distant shots (merged below) of…

Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis flammea cabaret)

Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis flammea cabaret)

… as well as a shy and hiding…

European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

But I also managed to take some slightly better shots of birds already on my list, including:

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

… and…

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

My list building did not stop at Sandy either. I nipped into the Summer Leys reserve in Northamptonshire and scooped a Pochard…

Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)

Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)

Then I went back to my family home and added the 59th species of the year to my list from the back-garden:

Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)