Tag Archives: Nottingham

Saint Valentine’s twitch

Being a romantic soul, I travelled up to Nottingham to be with my wife – who is currently touring in a play – for Valentine’s day. As she had to rehearse in the day, I spent Saturday birding in the North Midlands.

Local bird alerts informed me that a Glossy Ibis was nearby. About 20 birds visit the UK each year (a marked increase on a decade ago or more) and I believe the British Birds Rarities Committee has removed it from its list because it is understood to be undergoing an expansion of range since it settled and bred in Spain about 20 years ago.

Whatever the official status, for me this is a rare bird, although one I have seen before (a pair visited Dungeness about four years ago while I was there). Somebody had kindly posted a map of the field it had been seen in, in a little village called Gonalston:

Where's Glossy?

Where’s Glossy?

I hoped I might see other birders who could pin-point the bird for me, but arrived early and alone. I had barely had time to raise my binoculars to my face over the hedge when I saw it. Whilst a hedge and birding manners prevented from getting close enough to get a good shot, I at least managed to record my first Nottinghamshire twitch (going in search of specific bird and finding it – in case you aren’t familiar with the proper definition of the over-used term) in pixels:

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)

It was feeding busily until other birders arrived. It then decided to tuck its distinctive beak into its wing and sleep (“Early bird” I was thinking smugly).

I drove on for my second attempted twitch of the day. This time not such a rare species as the Glossy, but in many ways more special for me – as they were life firsts.

I drove to Besthorpe nature reserve towards Lincoln where I heard that two of our winter migrant swan species had been spotted a few days earlier.

Besthorpe reserve

Whooper and Bewick’s Swans migrate to the UK in their thousands, but tend to settle in only a few select areas. They are famous at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, where the late great Sir Peter Scott studied them.

DIGRESSION ALERT Sir Peter Scott is one of the greatest naturalists of the 20th Century (founder of both the WWF and WWT). My favourite, and poignant, story about his life actually concerned his more famous father, Captain Robert Scott (of the Antarctic): Captain Scott’s last letter to his wife (soon-to-be-widow) as he faced death in the tent with his fellow explorers in the Antarctic blizzard included a line about his son, the young Peter, who he knew he would never see again. It said, “make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games”. This wonderfully prescient or inspirational (depending on how you deem it influenced the outcome) comment became truer than he could have ever hoped.

I finished watching some noisy Redshank and a lone Oystercatcher – a far cry from the hundreds I saw the weekend before at Dungeness – and was deciding whether to turn left and walk around the reserve in a circle, or right and walk along the river Trent. As I looked right, I could see a flicker of white through a hedge that looked like a Swan, so I chose ‘right’.

That flicker of white was a Mute Swan – but there were almost 40 swans in the field by the great river:

Swans

There were Mute Swans spread out throughout the field, but in the middle, there was a tight bank of swans keeping to themselves. I admit to being really quite excited when I saw the distinctive yellow on the beaks of these swans. There were 16 Whooper Swans and 2 of the slightly smaller Bewicks:

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

If we look in more closely, you can see the triangular yellow markings of these Icelandic migrants – the nominate species of the great Cygnus genus no less:

Closer up of the Whoopers

Closer up of the Whoopers

From a distance I started carefully studying their faces as my hands almost froze to my binoculars (I left my gloves in London). Sir Peter Scott – an accomplished artist – kept notebooks with drawings of the facial markings of the swans at Slimbridge – which he also founded – and was able to identify individual birds from their particular marks. I was simply trying find a Swan with slightly less yellow on its face – quite hard as they were far away and often had their heads in the grass feeding.

I eventually found two of the Bewick’s Swans – which luckily chimed with what other birders had reported. There is currently an ornithological debate over whether Bewick’s Swans are sub-species of Tundra Swans or full species in their own right. Either way, I marvelled at how these similar looking swans – Whoopers and Bewick’s – migrated in from vastly different places (Iceland and Siberia respectively) and came together in the same little field in Nottinghamshire alongside our native Mutes. Forgive the the dreadful quality, but I wanted to show that I really did manage to single out a Bewick’s:

Bewick's Swan (Cygnus [columbianus] bewickii)

Bewick’s Swan (Cygnus [columbianus] bewickii) and a Mute Swan in foreground

Three successful twitches in a row! Could I make it four?

I drove back to Nottingham to the wrong side of Holme Pierrepont waterspouts centre. What do I mean by the ‘wrong side’? Well, I mean this:

A52

A52

There is a large lake known as the A52 Pit – because it sits next to the dual carriageway of the A52 – which is the private property of a farmer who does not like birders tramping over his land. As you may be able to see on the photo above, birders dangerously pull over on the dual carriageway to peer from a distance at the water. I parked more safely further away and then walked next to the hurtling traffic for a mile or so.

Not exactly the wilderness or pastoral idyll that many have in mind when they think of the quaint hobby of birding. So why were we doing this? The large and inaccessable lake had hundreds of Wigeon on it. But amongst the Wigeon, was a rare vagrant – an American Wigeon. I was too far away to properly see without a scope, but I did manage to pick out Smew and Goldeneye and took this landscape as a memento for ‘dipping’ one out of a wonderful four:

No American Wigeon in sight

No American Wigeon in sight

Throughout the day, I added six species to my UK year list taking me to 95 for the year so far:

  • Whooper Swan
  • Bewick’s Swan
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Buzzard
  • Grey Wagtail
  • Bullfinch

A Big Birding Year: Epilogue (Black-headed Gull and friends)

I had an unexpected birding trip out on New Year’s Eve itself. I visited Holme Pierrepont National Watersports Centre near Nottingham. The man-made rowing lake is 2km long by about 100m wide and is a great place to see waterfowl:

Holme Pierrepont

I saw online that there had recently been sightings of Scaup duck at the rowing lake. This was would have been a tick for my photographic Big Year, so I scoured the lake carefully.

Half the lake (length-wise) was covered in a thin sheet of ice which meant I was confident I was able to accurately monitor all of the birds on this narrow waterway. And indeed I saw it – a female Scaup swimming towards me with her characteristic white feathers around the base of the bill showing well despite the distance. I started clicking away with my camera and was delighted to see she kept on swimming toward me, closer and closer. Unfortunately, as she got closer my initial enthusiasm turned to disappointment as I realised she was not a Scaup at all, but the far commoner Tufted Duck (the females occasionally have Scaup-like white patches which have undoubtedly led to mis-identification on many occasions). I stood there feeling a little silly as I had taken loads of shots of a common duck. The clues were all pretty obvious:

A – The dark bill tip is more extensive than the tiny dark ‘nail’ present on a Scaup’s bill.
B – I just thought I would point at the confusing white markings.
C – The bird has a tuft for Christ’s sake!
D – The back is too uniformly dark and brown to be Scaup

Ignore the photo-bombing gull…

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

So I didn’t add to my year-list, but I did get a couple of other shots of birds with Black-headed Gulls almost always getting into the photo…

Little Egret  (Egretta garzetta)

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

As it is already the 3rd of January, I should really be out and building up my year-list for 2015, but the weather is so bad I used the excuse to stay in with this one last reflection on birding in 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

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

A tail of two tits

Alright – enough sniggering there at the back!

Titmouse is from Old English meaning small (tit) bird (mase). It is an apt description of one of the most popular British garden birds, the tiny Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus):

Image

Equally tiny, is the Blue Tit’s distant cousin, the Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus):

image

Watching these energetic (constantly on the move) and acrobatic birds in a park in Nottingham was a joy. They have survived a long, cold winter, but many of their numbers will not have been so lucky. It is estimated that up to 80 per cent of all Long-tailed Tits will die in a cold winter.

image