Monday, 30 January 2012

RSPB Garden Watch

It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since I last submitted a count of the birds visiting my garden, and already that time has come around again. I chose an hour on Sunday and settled myself down in my armchair in front of the patio windows where I could get an all-round view of the garden and the feeders. If only bird watching could always be this comfortable!!

It wasn’t too long before the usual suspects began to show. First came the Blackbirds to feast on the apples I had thrown onto the lawn. These were soon followed by Sparrows (Tree & House), Goldfinch, Chaffinch, and Greenfinch after the sunflower hearts and nyger in the feeders. Interestingly, it was only after the numbers of other birds had begun visiting the feeders before the Tits and Dunnocks had enough confidence to make a show.

As I said, all the usual suspects made an appearance in the hour I had set aside, but I had visits from three not so common friends – well actually only two, while the other was a close miss. The first was a Stock Dove complete with its iridescent neck. The second was a glorious Yellowhammer almost ready for the coming spring.

The last on my list – well actually not as it didn’t quite make the garden – was a Grey Heron that perched in a neighbour’s tree taking a very close look at the expensive Koi Carp they had bought over the summer.

All in all I was pleased with the numbers I was able to report, and felt that it was marginally improved on last year. Missing, though, were the Song Thrushes, which I have seen very little of this winter. Given the very mild weather we have had, they have probably survived, but are still out of the village feeding in the countryside. Well let's hope so. I do love to hear their song in the mornings and evenings.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Another Over-Wintering Stranger

So far this winter the weather has been remarkably mild. I can recall only one day where we have had snow and the number of frosts can be counted on the fingers of both hands. So it is perhaps not surprising that some birds have decided to over-winter here rather than use their energies flying south.

The Desert Wheatear that continues to be seen at Bempton Cliffs is probably an extreme example of this, but there have been others. There have been a number of Little Egrets hanging around East Yorkshire, and although only recently announced, a Cattle Egret – a smaller cousin – has been giving great views over the past four weeks or so.
I have been trying to see this bird for a while, but owing to poor weather or work commitments it hasn’t been possible until this week. On Friday I tried to locate it up the river beyond Bewholme Bridge and Hempholme, but other than finding a Short-Eared Owl hunting at 11am and surprising myself and a Snipe by nearly stepping on it, I had little success. Today was very different.

The bird had been reported visiting the Yorkshire Water compound at Tophill Low over the weekend, and that was exactly where I found it this morning. There was clearly plenty for it to eat, although I was not able to see what was on the menu. The Egret spent a great deal of time with its head down picking up morsels, which was apparently quite upsetting to the local Mistle Thrushes who I think were not enthralled to have an interloper helping itself on their territory.

The bird was disturbed a number of times by men in fluorescent orange jackets, and at first just moved to other areas of the compound where the frost had been dispersed by the weak sun. However, towards midday the Egret seemed to have had enough, and was last seen flying off in the direction of Easingwold Farm.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Could the Blood be Rising........?

Despite ice on a number of the lagoons at Tophill, a number of the birds seem to be readying themselves for spring. The Teal on Watton are clearly in the mood with the drakes displaying – a curious bobbing of the head followed by a rising of the tail. The Teal were joined by the Mallard, and today saw a lone Goldeneye displaying to all and sundry, throwing his head over his back with great vigour – and all of this effort when there was no female in sight! A pair of adult Mute Swans took great offence and aggressive postures when a small group of adolescents decided to fly in. Even the Greylags seemed to be pairing up.

'Get off my pond'

The Interlopers
At South Marsh East there were only three Lapwings to be seen, but the far bank of the lagoon was alive with the sound of croaking frogs. Although the days are now getting longer, I can’t help feeling that there is still plenty of time for winter weather to put a stop to that.

Round the corner, and on the way back to the reserve car park, there was a terrific clacking and chattering. I first thought there was a flock of Fieldfare in the trees, but it was soon clear that the ruckus was being caused by two squabbling male Great Spotted Woodpeckers, arguing over a potential mate who sat patiently in the next tree. Once they had cleared off they were replaced by a Mistle Thrush seeing a rival off the territory.

'She's mine!!!!!'
The rest of the day gave up some splendid and welcome sights – a couple of Treecreepers, Goldcrests, Long-Tailed Tits, Siskens, and Coal Tits in ‘D’ Woods, and an early sighting of a Short-Eared Owl and a ring-tailed Hen Harrier at the Hempholme end of the reserve.

Long-Tailed Tit

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Practice makes perfect

Working with the general public brings me into contact with all sorts of bugs and germs. So it was that my Christmas and New Year were less pleasurable than they could have been because of a bad chest infection that needed treatment with antibiotics. So today was my first day out birding for almost three weeks. My Christmas present was a new Opticron fieldscope, so today was the opportunity to try it out.

I was drawn to Tophill mainly because of the continued visitation of a Green-Winged Teal, but also because it is close to home with the weather about to close in yet again. Yesterday was quite stormy, and the strong westerly winds were forecast to continue today. On that basis I decided to use the Watton hide, hoping that the birds may congregate towards the area away from the Tophill reserve. Things didn’t work out quite as planned in that sense, but on arrival I was able to get some good views of the Green-Winged Teal, the reported red-headed Smew, and a female Garganey. However, before I could take any photos, a couple of Roe deer came prancing across the causeway putting all the birds up. Unfortunately I was not then able to relocate the Smew or GWT, and I didn’t see them for the rest of the day.
Female Garganey with Teal
Female Garganey
The White-Fronted geese were in plentiful supply, and a few came quite close, intermingling with Greylags so that you could clearly see the differences. They also gave a few fly-passes, taking to the air when the Greylags bullied their way through the throng to the water.

White-Fronted Goose


White-Fronted in comparison with a Greylag Goose

Fly-pass White-Fronted geese
The scope worked very well, and gave some really good views even in the low light conditions. I certainly got plenty of practice with it looking for the GWT amongst the throngs of its Eurasian relatives, Wigeon, and Mallard. It even helped find the three Black-Tailed Godwit and handful of Redshank that were searching for worms on the bankside amongst the geese.
It wasn’t the best of days with the cold and the wind. However, it was a great opportunity to practice with my new optics if nothing else.