Tag Archives: Goosander

Face to face: notes from Rutland

I dropped in at Rutland Water today on the drive back from Nottingham. The newish wetland reserve on the western shore is impressive, but I was woefully under-equipped: I tottered around the mud in my brogues and strained my eyes across the vast expanses of water with my bins cursing my lack of spotting-scope. But it turns out that the piece of kit I was to miss most was my camera.

I spent a fair whack of time studying ‘Lagoon 4’ from the three hides. A guy with a scope helpfully pointed out a red head Smew on the far side following a raft of Wigeon. With my binoculars I could just about make out the shape and colouration of the distant speck. In turn I pointed out a Peregrine perched on the man-made Osprey nest in the middle of the water – he hadn’t bothered to study the Osprey nest for obvious reasons (I believe the likely nest occupier is currently in Senegal). As we both watched the Peregrine, it decided to perform.

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Lagoon 4, Rutland Water

The falcon swooped down to a post poking up out of the water and perched right in front of pair of Egyptian Goose. I have never seen anything quite like it: a face-off between the ultimate feathered killing machine – all eyes and razor-sharp bill, but still and unfazed, and an absolutely furious goose spitting and hissing with its face level with the raptor.

I walked around to the other side of the lagoon to see if I could get a better view of the Smew from another hide. I opened the wooden window flap and almost put it straight back down again in disbelief. There, directly in front of me, was the stunning adult drake, pristine in white and only 20-30 feet away from me. A little further away was his entourage of three red heads. If I had my camera and 400mm lens, I could have posted some amazing shots. Instead, I simply had my iPhone…

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Drake Smew (Mergellus albellus)

The fuzzy pixelated image betrays the sharp, clean, contrasted colours and lines of this gorgeous duck, but seeing one up so close was a wonderful experience.

Later, I drove down to the Southern shore of the 12.6 square kilometres of water and counted tens of gorgeous Goldeneye, a pair of Goosander, and distant view of a Great White Egret absolutely still on the shoreline – all three were new birds for my UK year list complementing the Smew, Oystercatcher, Ringed PloverChiffchaff, and a passing flock of Siskin earlier on the reserve. Without a scope, I didn’t really have a chance of finding the Great Northern Diver that has been seen, and I suspected that an interesting grebe or two would have been found somewhere out on the water. But, even poorly prepared and shod, I still had a great visit.

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South Arm, Rutland Water

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The Saxon Shore

A couple of days ago, I went for a walk with a friend. We walked for just over 13 miles from the outskirts of Canterbury, through Blean woods, then up to the North Kent Coast, along the Saxon Shore Way (by the Swale and then down alongside the creek) to Faversham where we inhaled some much needed beer and food. A very rough map of our journey is set out below:

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The highlight of the walk was in the South Swale reserve in the North Kent Marshes (around points A-C in my makeshift map). Before we reached Saxon Shore Way, we walked through fields (point ‘A’ on the map) that were alive with Skylarks in full song flight (I swear winter only lasted for about one week this year!) In fact the number of Skylark and Fieldfare (with the latter in the hundreds) were close to UK records for me. The fields were bordered by water-filled ditches and reed beds with Little Egret, Snipe, and Reed Buntings all showing. We watched Buzzards, Kestrels, a Marsh Harrier, and a probable, distant, Merlin (unfortunately I won’t be counting the latter for my year-list) hunting.

When we reached the Swale, I was a little disappointed at first that it was high tide – the mudflats here are so huge that they even have names (like the South Oaze), but that disappointment soon dissipated when we saw a seal (point ‘B’ on the map). It was as curious of us as we were of it, and resurfaced many times closer to watch us:

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Harbour (or Common) Seal (Phoca vitulina)

Walking along the Saxon Shore Way – named after some of the fortifications built to protect late Roman England from Saxon invaders from the Continent, at a time when the coastline looked very different indeed – we realised another benefit of the high tide: many of the water birds were concentrated in quite small areas of reeds and pebble banks (point ‘C’ on map).

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The Swale

We saw large numbers of Teal and Brent Geese, and huge numbers of Wigeon collecting in a banked off lagoon section, while large flocks of Lapwing flew over.

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Brent Goose (Branta bernicula)

Even greater numbers of Grey Plover and Dunlin, with some probable Knot as well, were huddled together on the pebble banks, at first looking like rocks or weeds:

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Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) and Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

There were also reasonable numbers of Curlew, Redshank, and Oystercatcher. We didn’t stop long to look at them – as we were getting thirsty and hungry at this point – and so I entirely failed to see what had put a large flock of Oystercatcher up in the air. It was only when looking at my photographs that I noticed the raptor amongst the flock. At first, I just assumed it was a Peregrine Falcon even though its shape confused me, but comments below made me look again and realise this is almost certainly a Sparrowhawk (I am assuming that it wasn’t hunting the Oystercatcher, which would be out of the size range for prey even for a female, but Redshank or Dunlin were possible targets – who knew Sparrowhawk hunt waders? Not me it seems!) There is also a single Bar-tailed Godwit towards the back of this zoomed-in section of the flock:

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Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), Sparrowhawk (Accipter nisus), Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa Lapponica), and Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) – The latter two may take some careful studying to find

A flock (or ‘time step’ to choose the very cool collective noun) of one of my favourite waders, Turnstone, whipped past us and settled on a small patch of grassy shoreline where they were belted repeatedly by the waves:

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Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

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Turnstones (one of which is ringed) playing Canute

When we reached the Faversham Creek, we looked across the water at Oare Marshes, and further across at a pub we had our sights set on (point ‘D’ on map). Unfortunately, we hadn’t quite bargained on the lack of mechanism for crossing the water. There were no bridges in sight, and we could see quite a long way. If it wasn’t for cameras and the fact that it was winter, we might have contemplated swimming (that is an opening scene of Casualty right there) or ‘borrowing’ a rusty upturned boat we had found.

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Faversham Creek

So we followed the creek upstream (does a creek even have a ‘down’ or ‘upstream’?) Either way, we were walking away from the Sea towards Faversham in an exaggerated bow. It was here that we saw my first Goosander for the year – apologies for shoddy record shot:

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Goosander (Mergus merganser)

And we ended our rather epic walk in a great pub in Faversham (point ‘E’ on the map) where we drank ales brewed in the same town by the famous Shepherd Neame  – Britain’s oldest brewer.

As this is my first real trip in the UK off the patch this year, a number of the birds listed above were inevitably year ticks. Overall, four species of raptor (not counting the possible Merlin) and ten species of wader is not bad for a morning’s walk.

The land and water of King Lot

We spent Easter in Edinburgh with family.

The city of Arthur’s Seat:

Arthur's Seat

Arthur’s Seat

Along with the mound on which Edinburgh Castle is built, Arthur’s Seat has to be one of the most famous extinct volcanoes in the world. Presumably, although not definitely, it is named after our greatest legendary king (I am a big fan of Arthurian legends). Edinburgh’s connections with Arthur don’t stop at the famous hill. The whole area – Lothian – is presumed to be named after an ancient king, sometimes called Lot: the father of Sir Gawain of the Round Table.

Some (hi)stories suggest that the ‘noble’ pagan king, Lot, committed an act of Talibanesque logic and brutality by throwing his Christian daughter off a cliff for having the temerity to be raped by a Welsh pillager Lord called Owain. The pregnant victim, later known as Saint Teneu, miraculously survived her fall and gave birth to Saint Mungo or Kentigern, the Patron Saint of Glasgow.

Flowing through the kingdom of Lot is Edinburgh’s main river, the Water of Leith:

Water of Leith

Water of Leith

This river rises in the Pentland Hills amongst the ferns, birch, heather, and moss:

Bavelaw Marsh

Bavelaw Marsh

… where I watched Meadow Pipits rise and fall in their dancing song-flights.

The many streams that help form the Water of Leith are damned to form the Threipmuir and Harlaw reservoirs which provide much of the drinking water for Edinburgh.

Threipmuir Resevoir

Threipmuir Resevoir

Threipmuir Resevoir

Threipmuir Resevoir

Harlaw Reservoir

Harlaw Reservoir

From these hills, the water tumbles down into the city and flows into the mighty Firth of Forth estuary.

A mile or two up the beach from where Water of Leith enters the sea, is Cramond Beach:

Camond Beach and Cramond Island in the distance

Camond Beach and Cramond Island in the distance

At low tide Cramond Island, way out in the Estuary, is linked to the mainland by a causeway:

Cramond Causeway

Cramond Causeway

Either side of the causeway is a sandy, muddy magnet for wading birds. Unfortunately, I had neither a camera (all the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone), nor a spotting scope, but throughout the day – whether in the hills or at the beach – I took a few photos of birds I saw through the ‘make-do’ method of holding my phone up to my binocular lens…

Left side, top to bottom: Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) in Balerno; Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) one of very many at Cramond Beach; one of my favourite birds, the White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) at Harlow Reservoir.

Right side, top to bottom: Common Redshank (Tringa totanus); Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus); Goosander (Mergus merganser) swimming up the River Almond Estuary from Cramond Beach; and, Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) also on Cramond Beach:

Birds… honestly!

Birds… honestly!

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

Christmas walks in Nottingham

Christmas Day: The Little Prince

I received a gift on Christmas day during a stroll in Woodthorpe Grange Park; I saw one of my favourite birds. The Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) is truly a little prince (regulus means prince in Latin). The smallest bird in Europe, but with a certain majesty topped off with a crown of gold:

Goldcrest

Boxing Day: An Elizabethan Park

A late afternoon stroll in the grounds of 16th Century Wollaton Park in the heart of Nottingham…

Wollaton Hall

Wollaton Park

28 December: Lord Byron’s home

Newstead Abbey was an Augustinian priory operating from the reign of Henry II until it was dissolved (along with so many others) by Henry VII and became a residential home of the Byron family…

Newstead Abbey

The 6th Baron, who we know as one of Nottingham’s most famous sons, the poet Lord Byron, could not afford the upkeep of the estate. He described the romantic ruin of his family home…

“Thro’ thy battlements, Newstead, the hollow winds whistle;
Thou, the hall of my fathers, art gone to decay”

The Abbey was eventually sold and is now a museum to its most famous occupant. The grounds include walled gardens…

Newstead garden

… and wilder parkland…

Newstead lake

Robin

29 December: toll path into the wild

Nottingham Canal

The Nottingham Canal courses out of the town and meets the River Trent:

Trent

Looking South across the Trent, smoke and steam can be seen billowing from the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal power station…

Reflection

Ratcliffe

Ratcliffe

In the name of Sir David

The Trent leads to a complex of lakes now part of the Attenborough Nature Reserve:

Hide

In turn this wetland is home to a range of wildlife. From common ducks such as:

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard

… and Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula):

Tufted Duck

… to the less frequently seen, such as these distant shots of female and male (left to right) Goosander, or Common Merganser, (Mergus Merganser):

Goosander

I also had fun exchanging whistles with a very bold (but tiny) Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes):

Wren

… and trying, and failing, to get a good photo of an elusive Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). This was the best I got:

Kingfisher

But the treat for me, was to see Tree Sparrows – rarer cousins of House Sparrows – (Passer montanus) at feeders at the reserve, as they have been almost wiped out from southern parts of England:

Tree Sparrow

As we eat, drink, make merry, and nurse winter colds, it is pleasant to get out in the fresh air, walk, and appreciate some of the beautiful sights that places – such as Nottingham – have to offer.

Happy New year everyone!

Attenborough