Tag Archives: Yellowhammer

Things I saw while searching for a Nightingale

Dawn on the Patch

I think I carried the scars of missing the patch Nightingale through to this long weekend. I determined that I would find good birds on the Patch and find a Nightingale somewhere. Anywhere.

And so a pretty frenetic three days of birding followed; starting, as it should, at dawn on the Patch…

IMG_1572v2

Sunrise on the Wanstead Flats

Saturday morning began very early; I was up just after 5am and out shortly afterwards. The combination of the early morning light and our low-lying mist, bathes everything in gold and it reminded me why dawn is my favourite time.

IMG_9875v2

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

The golden light was not auspicious, however. It soon became a beautiful day, but the birding was poor. No interesting new migrants had stopped over, although there were a few Wheatear around (it seems to be an exceptional year for them), which we had fun photographing (see here and here for better versions of my effort below).

IMG_0038v2

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

There were, of course, other birds on the Patch, but none that whet the April appetite of listing birders.

IMG_9890v2

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)

Therfield, Hertfordshire

And so news of Dotterel in a field less than an hour’s drive away had me dashing for my car and promptly missing my second Sedge Warbler (which would have been a patch tick for me) in the space of week.

But I can’t complain. Sometimes we need a change of scenery and seeing Dotterel so far South is always a special occasion and it was an England tick for me, and my first ever clear views.

IMG_0314v2

Female Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Two pairs showed nicely, although the relatively drab males often required re-finding due to their camouflaged plumage.

IMG_0302v2

Male Dotterel

Watching Dotterel whilst the sounds of Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting provided a wonderful, rustic backdrop (see videos here and here), was, simply, special.

IMG_0254v2

Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)

IMG_0233v2

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

East Tilbury

On the way back, I dropped in at one of my favourite Thames-side sites, East Tilbury as I heard that both Nightingale and Grasshopper Warbler had been heard that morning. I didn’t find them, but I did enjoy some other year ticks in the form of Short-eared Owl, Cuckoo, and Whimbrel.

IMG_0369v2

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

IMG_0578v2

Common Cuckoo* (Cuculus canorus)

IMG_0427v2

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

But even while not ticking off new birds for the year, the birding was excellent. The SSSI scrub and grassland (on the other side of the flood defences and expansive reed-beds and mudflats) are just full of migrant warblers and some very showy pairs of Stonechat amongst other things.

IMG_0379v2

Male Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)

Also videoed calling here.

IMG_0375v2

Female Stonechat

I love how easily you can get lost in the wildness of the scrub, full of birdsong, be alerted to a flock of Whimbrel calling (I had one flock, or ‘fling’ of 12 birds pass by down the Thames) and then see a 25,000 ton oil tanker pass right by. Surreal!

IMG_0443v2

‘Baltic Faith’ obviously with full cargo as sitting low in the water

The Blean

I then drove to the other side of the Thames and visited a friend in Canterbury for dinner and drinks. The next morning, while out walking with my friend and his dog, and… hangover aside… partially plotting my best place to find a Nightingale, I heard a … er… Nightingale.

I shouldn’t really have been surprised. Blean Woods – where we were walking – is known to hold an important population of Nightingale. I had no intention of trying to see this elusive and protected bird, but it flew right up into view (videoed singing here)…

IMG_0462v2

Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

I even heard a second Nightingale singing as we walked through this truly stunning ancient woodland.

IMG_0468v2

English Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in the Blean

Back to the Patch

So instead of driving around Kent trying to find my favourite bird, I left after breakfast and got back to the Patch to tick off Whinchat for the year – a pair were showing as well as five Wheatear all lined up on the path.

IMG_0491v2

Female Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

This morning I gave myself a lie-in, which cost me another patch-life-tick in the shape of Rook, but I was able to get into the Brooms in time to see my first Swift and House Martin for the year, as well as being alerted by Jono to my first patch Common Tern for two years with three flying very high over indeed.

IMG_0520v2

Record shot of Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Rainham Marshes and the Thames at Rainham

But again, soon, the allure of more exotic birds off patch proved too magnetic and so I whipped down to Rainham Marshes where I dipped Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, but made up for it by getting year ticks out of Bar-tailed Godwit, and Greenshank, and a full blown London life-tick in the form of Little Gull.

Luckily I was river-watching with a couple of much younger and much better birders than me who helped locate the Little Gull on the other side of the Thames, in time for me to get my scope on it and just about get enough ‘on it’ to tick it for the year. To give you sense of how far away it was, here is the digi-scoped view (although it did look a bit better before my iPhone mashed up the pixels):

IMG_1607v2

Distant Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) preening on a buoy (bill tucked into feathers)

We then had it (or a different bird??) much closer and on our side of the river. The two young guys dashed off for a photo whilst I stayed with Nick and admired it through the scope as it settled on the mud. When it looked like it was going to sleep I waddled off after the teenagers in comic pursuit. Having stopped jogging a few times due to lack of fitness and a distracting Short-eared Owl on the adjacent marshes, I arrived too late to take its picture (according to Nick who had been watching the scene from afar, the bird ascended rapture-like vertically up in the air and out of sight!!). This is one of the photos Dante took of the same bird; to get an idea of what I should have been posting.

Little Gull

The impressive Dante had already scored big earlier in the day with a Black Tern. This grates a little as I have never seen one, apart from a ‘probable’ over Canary Wharf a couple of years ago (when I was without bins) and another, today, on the other side of the Thames that I watched for a while but couldn’t get enough on to be sure (I still maintain it was smaller, darker, and sleeker than accompanying Commons, but the better birders didn’t come to my rescue – I’m unclear as to whether they didn’t see it or whether they were stood behind me shaking their heads).

It then started raining so hard that we left the hardy young birders to it and went back via the Grasshopper Warbler bush, that was annoyingly empty of Grasshopper Warblers. Its commoner cousins were showing and sounding well across the reserve, including an unusually showy, Sedge Warbler (also videoed in song here).

IMG_0569v2

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

So, three days of birding, a couple of big dips on the patch, a few more off the patch, but some amazing experiences and my patch year list nudges up to 91 with four new additions, and my UK year list grows by a giddy 12 to the barely-respectable total of 137 as we enter May (Nick has seen more than that in the month of April alone, but he is properly year-listing at the moment).

Post Scriptum: a legless lizard (and no, that’s not my nickname)

I also got another lifer this weekend, in the form of a reptile in Kent.

IMG_1589v2

Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)

Which, in turn prompted me to check our own reptile mats back on the Patch:

IMG_1596v2

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

I know this account sounds a bit like a cold ‘tick fest’, but if I had got all poetic over the experiences I had (as is sometimes my want) rather than just quickly listing things I saw, you would probably still be reading this post by the time next weekend appears.

*The photo of the Cuckoo is actually from Rainham Marshes two days after my Tilbury visit, but why allow accuracy to get in the way of narrative!

Advertisements

A Big Birding Year: Part XVII (Hammering home my 90th species)

The Jubilee River at Dorney looks the very picture of a quintessential natural English river.

Jubilee River

However, the ‘river’ was shaped by man and is barely 20 years old. Correctly speaking, it is a 7-mile long hydraulic channel, designed to relieve flooding risk from the Thames near Maidenhead. Nature has embraced it so quickly, that it effectively looks and acts like a natural tributary of the Thames. It is the largest man-made river in the country, the second largest in Europe, and attracts as much – if not more – wildlife than the nearby section of the Thames: truly an eco-engineering marvel of the modern age.

There is a section where one can walk along boards through overgrown reeds. The view from space shows a nice clear path looping out in the reeds with square viewing platforms:

Walkway from space - thanks to Google Maps

Walkway from space – thanks to Google Maps

The current reality is somewhat different from when this satellite photo was taken. The boards are heavily overgrown with weeds and reeds. The stinging nettles have grown to at least 2 foot above my head and stung me several times as I pushed my way through, squashing Deadly Nightshade berries beneath my feet as I walked. In the photo taken from my phone below (at point marked with a red ‘X’ on the map above), the path is actually to the immediate left of the nettles:

Nettles

But the scratches and stings were worth it to be immersed inside a wetland habitat which allowed me to get closer to a Reed Warbler than I have ever been before:

Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

Whilst slightly obscured, it stayed its ground and made quite a lot of noise a few feet away from me as I took his photograph and then moved on. His home was amidst the reeds seen below left (and at point marked with a red ‘Y’ on the map above):

Reeds on river

I also snapped this female Banded Demoiselle amongst the reeds:

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

On the walk I also managed to get photos of two more bird species to add to my Big Year photo-list:

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

… and…

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

These photos were all taken last weekend on a scorching English summer day. I then drove to another nearby man-made water-feature: my birding nemesis, Staines Reservoir:

Staines Reservoir

Whilst there, aside from photographing distant ducks which turned out just to be mallards, I managed to capture my 90th species of bird in pixels for the year in the UK:

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Whilst my birding year will not break any records, I am quite pleased that in less than 20 birding trips out in the first 7 months of the year, I have photographed 90 species of birds. My target for 100 for the year is within sight.

A signal of summer: the song of the Yellowhammer

Giddy from the result at Wimbledon and from the heat of a summer evening, I can reflect back on a crazy few weeks, which included my Stag-do and explains (though perhaps doesn’t excuse) my absence from the blogosphere.

Yesterday morning, I took a few hours to breathe in the hot summer air of the countryside.

pathway

I walked through meadows and cornfields and woodlands…

Meadow

Wheatfield

Oak

Kilwick Wood

There was typical livestock, such as this late-season lamb with its early-season playmate…

Lamb

… and atypical, such as this huge-horned bovid…

IMG_2710

I photographed an array of summer flowers (which I don’t have time now to identify)…

Poppy

Thistle 3

Flora

Thistle 2

Thistle 1

Dandelion

I was accompanied throughout my walk by birdsong: the eerie cries of soaring Buzzards, the tinkling of Goldfinches, and the piercing calls of speeding Swallows and Swifts (our beloved birds of summer). But the voice which signals summer to me more than any other is the song of the Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella). Some say it sounds like, “A little bit of bread but no cheese”. I am not sure I entirely agree. Either way, standing to watch a male proud at the top of his tree sing his heart out was a moment of real summer joy as profound, but perhaps not quite so ecstatic, as watching a British man win Wimbledon after 77 years. At least I know I won’t have to wait that long to watch the Yellowhammer sing again.

Yellowhammer

Mid-song