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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Off birding to the Algarve!

Gear is packed .......

and all roads lead to ...........................

One of these is hired ......

with one of these in the glove compartment......

Next post in about 2 weeks time, hopefully with some mega spring passage pics of, well just about anything and not just birds, I'm memory card laden so looking for for some good pics of Portuguese life n landscapes too. Not a huge deal to report in the past couple of days, the poor weather has brought neither a Chiff or a Chaff for me, nothing but a few good waders in the rain - 50 Ruff and 70 Dunlin in amongst Lapwings and Goldies at North Duffield and these good Whoopers at Thorganby yesterday ..........

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Siskins in the garden bring back memories & a nap hand of goodies at Askham Bog

As a young lad I remember my parents allowing me to camp overnight in the garden for the very first time. I'd just got into birdwatching and so thrilled because I'd rigged up a homemade bird table, loaded it with food I thought birds might like to eat (I have a memory of old xmas cake!), and located it just outside the tent in the hope of attracting all manner of things. In my 11yr old mind this meant anything from Eagles to Hoopoes of course ..... and of course I was to be disappointed .... but I was rewarded at first light by some birds I didn't recognise at my bird table, and that was the day I begged my parents to buy me a bird identification field guide!

Some time and much begging later I was pleased to identify my mystery birds as Siskins. That was more than 40 years ago and although I've seen many Siskins since, I've never actually had another one in my garden ... until the other day that is, when I had a pair on the feeders and then in next door's tree. You rarely get such good views of these terrific little finches, normally they're flying over in flocks from tree to tree and I was just as thrilled to see these as I was the ones spyed from my tent all those years ago!

Here's a couple of shots of the male in next door's tree ....

Nice when things like that come full circle.

Pretty awful weather this weekend and glad I'm on holiday and not working Askham Bog as it would have been rubbish with most folk staying put indoors, but last Sunday was ok down on the bog - plenty of visitors and a healthy number signed up plus a nap hand of good bird pics in the sun!

Chaffinches all over the place and this one was looking particularly splendid .....

I normally shy away from taking pictures of birds at feeding stations because of that 'staged' look but had to make an exception with these exquisite Long Tailed Tits.

Here's a common but often overlooked bird, always one or two skulking around in UK gardens and nice see them slightly out of context perched in a tree ... its a Hedge Sparrow or Dunnock. Not actually a sparrow at all, this understated wee bird is an accentor - a family of birds that normally inhabit mountainous areas with the Alpine Accentor being its nearest relative .. never going to get one of those at Askham Bog!

Ok folks, ready to enter the 'Is it a Willow or a Marsh Tit' debate? Well I have to confess to being not as good as I should be on separating these two similar birds and I wouldn't wish the vagaries of identification and splitting the two on anyone but at the risk of being publicly humiliated by the birding world I'm sticking my neck out and saying this is a Willow Tit ... light wing panels, clean cheeks, unglossy cap ... please tell me I'm right expert birders! (actually I heard this one call so know darn well its a Willow!). Anyone interested in what is a bit of hot topic in the birding world, so much so that the distribution of both species is now really muddled, here's Richard Broughton's bible on separating the two - 'separation of marsh and willow tit in britain, a review' 

Last but by no means least, I've been trying to get even a half decent picture of a Wren for months at Askham Bog .... they tend to creep around under the boardwalks a lot but occasionally pose for a few seconds before flitting away, so I was reasonably pleased to get this one. Would have been better perched on a mossy tree stump or something but the wire fence just about works for me!


Early signs of Spring at Wheldrake Ings

Gazing out of my window upon cold and cloudy skies and a very wet garden I have to remind myself that it will be the first day of Spring in just 3 days time on March 20th! Yes, next Wednesday is down on the calender as the vernal equinox - where daylight hours begin to match those of darkness and the Northern Hemisphere warms up.... hurray, bring it on!

The very first signs of Spring have been with us for a a few weeks already of course with Snowdrops, Crocuses and Hazel Catkins bringing a bit of colour to the countryside and I noticed the Willow trees at Wheldrake coming into bud earlier this week. Haven't seen any Sand Martin records for Yorkshire yet but one in Liecestershire on the 14th with several more further South shows they are on their way up and they've had Swallows in Cornwall, Dorset and Ireland already!

Apart from my truly enjoyable working hours at Askham Bog, I've not been out much recently ....been taking advantage of this pre Spring lull to get a few things done around the house and when I have ventured abroad its still felt like Winter to me!

Dodging the snow flurries at Wheldrake Ings last week was kinda fun and as I sought refuge in Tower Hide my reward was a couple of drake Scaups in with the rest of the wildfowl. Too far away to photograph sadly because as you can from this view the light was good in between the showers.

These roaming Whooper Swans were a little closer (but not much!) and managed a couple of half decent shots with a lucky capture of a bit of argy bargy swan behaviour!

It was a shame the good light didn't remain long enough to get more pics because I was after some wildfowl in flight. There was a healthy number of Pintail on the reserve (I reckoned about 100) and I was dying to get one of those but had to settle for Comon Teal and a pretty grubby and hastily shot fly over of a small group of Pink Footed Geese
Common Teal
Pink Footed Geese

It was certainly no day for a surprise early Swallow or anything like that - but then Spring comes in many guises; depends of course where you are on this planet as to what may be that harbinger of warmer days ahead,but as I look out again on to settling snow in my garden, I'm secretly chuffed to have caught a few of Wheldrake's own symbols of Spring .... Curlews calling and drifting overhead

Pussy Willow starting to bud and alongside the pathways

...... and the occasional Oystercatcher probing for worms that are themselves starting to wriggle again.

Highlight birds on the day were some good flocks of waders with maybe 120 Dunlin, 20ish Ruff, about 500 Lapwing, 50 Golden Plover and 2 Snipe. Still plenty of ducks and geese about with maybe 100 Pintail, 70 Gadwall, 150 Shoveler, 200 Tufted Duck, 2 Scaup, 8 Goldeneye, 150 Pochard in amongst the many hundreds of Wigeon, Teal and Mallard. With a brisk and chilly Easterly blowing a couple of hours in Tower Hide was not good for my hands and as the light began to fade I gave up on trying to pick out anything special like a Glaucous or Med Gull amongst the other gulls coming into roost and sought refuge!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Road trip to Hampshire ...Brents & Sanderlings a plenty plus a couple of goons!

Another whistle stop road trip down to Hampshire to visit friends and squeeze in a bit of birding last week. We shouldn't be surprised I suppose but once again the weather was against us for all but a brief window of sunshine on Wednesday afternoon / eve, otherwise it was cold and decidedly gloomy! Great views of Red Kites coming into roost in the mist on the way down nr Newbury and we must have topped 20 in total whilst journeying ... they really have spread far and wide in the UK and always a treat to see.

Farlington Marshes is always a handy reserve to visit down there and although the morning was grey there were plenty of waders, ducks and geese about plus a couple of Song Thrushes and a Sparrowhawk.
Fly by Redshank
The geese were almost all Brents with maybe something like 300 on the water and many hundreds flying overhead ...... now I have to say that the light they were flying in was as gloomy as a graveyard on a wet Sunday afternoon, so most post production needed and not quite sure what I did with this but they look better than they ever did in the viewfinder!

This was a loner..... there's always one looking for a passport pic!

Talking of passport pics don't use these boys, you might get arrested for more than being in possession of  living head fur and a cockney rebelesque 70's pose!!

  The birds they must have pulled in their prime!
Ok, I'll get some stick for that but back to some birds with feathers as well as a pulse here's a few cracking Sanderling pics on Eastney Beach ..... and for a few hours the sun did shine!

Sanderlings are one of my favourite waders, nearly always doing something .... this little tussle over a juicy mollusc went on for several minutes

Until the victor flew away with the spoils!
Closely followed by a hungry gang .........
And then time for a rest .... didn't notice at the time but one of the Sanderlings has colour coded tags on its legs. I found a site on the net where you can report such tags and obtain a history of the birds movements ( so hopefully I'll get something back soon.
We had a single Mediterranean Gull fly past but sadly too quick for me to get the camera on it ..... Here's a few 'too far away but reasonable images' 
Oystercatcher feeding on a jetty at Eastney beach
Hardly in the 'reasonable' category but this was the only Sparrowhawk and only posting because Mark missed it ... here you go mate!

Mr & Mrs Common Teal out for a stroll
Later in the day we went back to Farlington Marshes and were rewarded by an impressive gull roost of 2000 plus Black Headed Gulls and many more waders including both Golden and Grey Plover, Dunlin, Knot and Black Tailed Godwit.
Then the sun went down and it was time to think about heading back to Yorkshire!