Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Big Birding Year: Part XXVII (End of year flurry)

A year ago I visited Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham. This morning, whilst staying with the in-laws, I returned to watch the dawn in the snow:

Nottingham dawn

For the British, snow is a novelty (last winter it did not snow once in London) and occasionally an inconvenience. For some of our wildlife, persistent freezing weather can be disastrous – it is estimated that some very cold years will see 30-40% of the individual birds in some species wiped out.

Some of the birds at the Attenborough reserve did not look fussed, like these Mute Swans on the River Trent:

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

However, not all the birds appeared quite so relaxed. This Moorhen approached the cracked ice with some trepidation:

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

… and I detected a greater sense of urgency in the feeding behaviours of some birds such as this female Reed Bunting:

Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

Moving equally quickly through bushes in search for food was my 101st species of bird photographed in 2014, a bird that would be common to many in the UK, but one I have not seen at all for almost two years and so I was delighted to be reacquainted with:

Eurasian bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Eurasian bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

A frozen Nottingham had further Christmas gifts for my Big Birding Year of photography, my second Goldeneye captured in pixels this year (albeit very far away – excuse extreme blur):

Male Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Male Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Female Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Female Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Distant ducks would also add to my year list (102):

Goosander [or Common Merganser] (Mergus merganser)

Goosander [or Common Merganser] (Mergus merganser)

And then finally, what is likely to be my last new bird of the year, an absolute gem. Although she remained very far my camera, my 103 species of the year was wonderful and quite rare for the UK. This female Smew will be one of only 100-200 individuals that will have visited the UK this year – I was privileged to end of my year in style:

Smew (Mergellus albellus)

Smew (Mergellus albellus)

Just to remind readers that some ducks do come slightly closer in range, I also took a shots of a Mallard drake:

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

I walked around the frozen landscape reflecting on what has been a wonderful and fun search for British birds and yielded 103 photographs of unique and different species.

I also reminded myself of “the ones that got away”. Birds I saw but which I didn’t get photos of:
Jack Snipe
Bittern
Kingfisher

Happy New Year to you all!

Trent

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A Big Birding Year: Part XXVI (A sacred century)

I have made a bit of a meal of getting there, but I have finally photographed my 100th species of bird this year in the UK. Huzzah!

The sacred pest
My century bird is appropriately special:

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)

The beautiful Egyptian Goose is a difficult bird for a birder to add to his list. This is because they are commonly held in bird collections (e.g., if you see one in St James’ Park, that’s nil points for you I’m afraid). But sometimes these birds escape and breed in the wild. These feral birds, originally from Africa, are now considered a pest in the UK. It is, or was, quite a different story on their native African continent. The birds were sacred to the ancient Egyptians, which – coupled with their distinctive eye markings – is the reason for their name.

The Egyptian Goose is one of the birds that straddles the hazy line between duck and goose (they are much smaller than most geese, but bigger than all ducks) and sit in glorious isolation in their own genus, Alopochen, which is ancient greek for ‘fox goose’ (in reference to the rufous or ‘foxy’ colour of its back).

The pair in the photograph were on a small pond in my local Wanstead Flats trying to get bread from people but largely being bullied by their bigger cousins, Canada Goose. London and East Anglia are two of the best places to see feral Egyptians outside of Africa as this BTO distribution map shows:

Thanks to the British Trust for Ornithology and the Bird Atlas

Thanks to the British Trust for Ornithology and the Bird Atlas

The century
So here they all are – all one hundred species of bird photographed this year in the UK – with the vast majority taken in London and the South East – from Magpie (the first bird I photographed this year) to Egyptian Goose (taken this December) and the other 98 in between:

100 birds

The year is not quite over, although with other ‘life’ getting quite busy in the run-up to Christmas (our house is still a building site!), it would not surprise me if my Egyptian friends were the last in my Big Year list for 2014. We shall see!

Thank you. It’s been emotional.