Thursday, 21 January 2016

Willington Gravel Pits by Evie Miller

Lapwing by Jill Pakenham
Lapwing by Jill Pakenham
The other day I went birding at Willington Gravel Pits in Derbyshire with my family and Simon Roddis (a great birder we have met through Twitter). Willington is my local nature reserve and it is always a favourite place to go birding in my opinion. We were also keen to try the new hide which has recently been completed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.

I took our new scope which my family received for Christmas, it was our first time using it and I absolutely loved it. The scope is an Opticron and is the MM3 60 GA ED/45. We were so excited about it, we forgot to take a photo! It worked really well and gave really clear views of the birds on the wetlands. It is great for us because it's a nice simple scope to use and light to carry.

Kingfisher by Edmund Fellowes
Kingfisher by Edmund Fellowes
There were plenty of species to see, such as Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Lapwing, Redwing, Fieldfare, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Tit and Great Crested Grebe. We also heard Water Rail and several Cetti's Warbler.

At the new hide we had a great view of a Kingfisher there catching from the large shoals of fish you could see. And thanks to the scope we had amazing views of the species, the colours appeared really bright and beautiful.

Evie Miller, @Ev1e_miller

Monday, 18 January 2016

Out for a duck by Toby Carter

Colour-ringed Cormorant 'CTH'  Photo by Sam Pitt Miller
Colour-ringed Cormorant 'CTH'
Photo by Sam Pitt Miller
Just before Christmas I went out with my friend Sam (@sampittmiller) to his local patch Priory Water, a medium sized Gravel Pit in the Wreake valley in Leicestershire. In the winter, this area attracts a lot of different duck species, and, a few days earlier, Sam found a 1st Winter male Scaup which is very uncommon so far inland.

So we went in search of this bird, checking through all the Tufted Duck flocks floating on the choppy water, when I noticed something very unusual on one of the Tufted Duck's beaks. After having a closer look, we were able to make out that it was a ‘nasal saddle’, which is a type of colour mark in which the 'ring' is strapped on the upper mandible. This was very exciting because one of the last times I visited Priory Water with Sam, I found a colour-ringed Cormorant with the initials 'CTH' which had been ringed the year before at Attenborough Nature Reserve.

Nasal saddled Tufted Duck  'A43'  Photo by Toby Carter
Nasal saddled Tufted Duck 
'A43'  Photo by Toby Carter
So getting back on topic, after trying to get some half decent photos of this bird through my telescope (Digiscoping), we managed to work out that the nasal saddle was marked with the combination 'A43'. I reported this and after a few anxious weeks, I got the results which were very interesting.

It turns out that the bird was originally ringed in Saint-Philbert-De-Grand-Lieu, France in December 2009. It was spotted a year and 9 months later at Matignicourt-Goncourt (again in France) 312 miles away (as the 'Duck' flies). We spotted this bird at Priory Water 4 years and 3 months since it had last been reported, and it had traveled 373 miles (again as the 'Duck' flies) from its previous known location.

This is one of the reasons I love ringing and birding, as out in the field you can spot colour-ringed birds of all sorts, like Reed Warbler, Coot, Cormorant, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull, and that is just to name a few! Behind each ring is so much information that helps people like the BTO understand more about where these birds are feeding, migratory patterns, and much, much more. Reporting ringed and colour-marked birds is a really valuable thing to do and if you ever do spot a colour-marked bird you can report it using this website. 

I'd like to say a big thanks to Sam of course but also to BTO,  Kane Brides, David Rodrigues and Alain Caizergues for digging up the old records of this bird.

There's more info on this Tufted Duck here. 

Toby Carter, @TobyWarbler

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

BTO's Garden BirdWatch - A great introduction to bird surveys

Starlings by Findlay Wilde
Starlings by Findlay Wilde
If, as a young birder, you have ever wondered about joining BTO, but are unsure of how to get involved, I would like to suggest a great way for you to start, and you don’t even need to leave your house to get involved.

There are so many interesting surveys you can get involved with through BTO, but a great introduction to BTO’s important survey work is the Garden BirdWatch (GBW). GBW is described on the BTO website as follows: “Garden BirdWatch monitors the changing fortunes of birds and other garden wildlife through its network of 'citizen scientists'. Observations collected by BTO Garden BirdWatchers are analysed by BTO researchers and published in leading journals. BTO Garden BirdWatchers have charted the decline of the House Sparrow, the rise of the Woodpigeon, have discovered that urban birds get up later than their rural counterparts and have alerted conservationists to the impact of an emerging disease in Greenfinches.”

House Sparrows by Findlay Wilde
House Sparrows by Findlay Wilde
All you need to do is survey your garden birds on a weekly basis and upload the data on to the BTO website.  You will be surprised how quickly you start noticing trends and patterns in the birds that visit your garden. You will soon see who is first to arrive in the morning, which birds prefer which foods and how the weather has a massive impact on your garden visitors.

The information you record all builds into a great record for you to look back on, whilst also contributing to a much bigger garden bird picture across the country.  You will help see how environmental changes are impacting common and rarer garden visitors.

Goldfinch by Findlay Wilde
Goldfinch by Findlay Wilde
But why just leave it at that? Why not use the information you have recorded as a good solid base for your own surveys. For example, I am currently using my Goldfinch GBW data to support a more detailed Goldfinch study in my garden, which you can read more about here. Ultimately I hope to work out how much energy a Goldfinch gains from it’s garden food intake.

So have a go, get involved and share your sightings and contribute to an important piece of science.

Findlay Wilde, @wildeaboutbirds

Monday, 11 January 2016

Get yourself a patch!

Bittern by Ron Marshall
Bittern by Ron Marshall
Although I’ve been interested in nature and birds in particular for a decade or so, I suppose I could only call myself a “proper” birder for around the latter 2 ½ of those years. In the earlier years, there were always other hobbies and events taking priority, but a change in circumstances and going off to university gave me the time to finally put some proper effort in to birding. Since then, and even before then, one reserve in particular stands out. It’s probably one of the main reasons I’m a birder, and is a place I’ve grown to love.

Titchfield Haven is a lovely wetland reserve on the coast of Hampshire half way between Portsmouth and Southampton, stretching from the coast (Hill Head) almost up to Titchfield village, 4 miles inland. It’s the place I and a number of other local birders call our patch, and almost feels like a second home! And of course I have so many good memories – seeing my first Spoonbill; walking into a hide just in time for Mark to say “Quick, look through my ‘scope, the Bitterns’ showing!”…seconds later it disappeared back into the reedbed…the one and only time I’ve seen a Bittern on the reserve.

Greater Yellowlegs by Amy Robjohns
Greater Yellowlegs by Amy Robjohns
Then there’s 2014, my first attempt of regular patch birding. It was an awesome year. I don’t think it could be described in any other way – Black-winged Stilt, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Lesser Yellowlegs, Siberian Stonechat… the latter 3 all in the space of 6 weeks; yes really, 6 weeks! Not only that, exactly 4 months after the Lesser Yellowlegs, a Greater Yellowlegs turned up (both on the 11th of the month coincidentally), at the start of 2015. 5 great finds by fellow local birders in just over 6 months in one small part of Hampshire. Not wanting them to feel left out, the Little Swift (seen by a few lucky birders) in September and Penduline Tits in December just add to the impressive list of rarities over the past 2 years. I’d like to think my time to stumble across a patch rarity will come, one day!

It’s not all about the rare birds, of course. There’s the scarcer species which may be common elsewhere, but feel so special on patch and the everyday species we probably take for granted. Rare birds aside, it’s these birds that make most patch visits worth it, even if at the time we moan about how quiet it is. Admittedly, much of the summer was spent thinking exactly that. Without the quiet days though, how can you enjoy those crazy or awesome moments?

Short-eared Owl by Amy Lewis
Short-eared Owl by Amy Lewis
The thing about patch birding is not giving up. I think that’s what this year in particular has taught me. Even when it seems quiet, day after day. If you give up, what if you miss that one day when something different does happen? If I’d given up on 23rd August after a fruitless morning, I wouldn’t have found the 5 Wood Sandpipers that dropped into North Scrape. It’s a similar story with the Great Grey Shrike, Short-eared and Tawny Owls, Roseate Tern, Black Redstart, and so many other species this year. Perseverance (and chance!) does pay off in the end.

Ringed Plover by Edmund Fellowes
Ringed Plover by Edmund Fellowes
I can’t really write about patch birding without mentioning some of the commoner birds I’ve enjoyed and probably do take for granted. 2015 was the most successful year to date for Avocets – I believe close to 40 chicks fledged, and at times the total number of Avocets in the scrapes topped 100. Cetti’s Warblers are everywhere and the Bearded Tits, among other species, are a joy to watch. We have Mediterranean gulls too, and well, lots of wonderful birds (funny that)! Even the beach at Hill Head, outside of the reserve has its moments – the mix of Sanderling, Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and more in the winter, for example. This blog post would be far too long if I mentioned them all.

Having a local patch is a great thing to do if you don’t already. Firstly, having a place close to home you can visit give you a focus – an aim of seeing as much as you can at this site, and beating previous years’ totals. It’s interesting to gradually get to know what’s common, what’s “patch gold” and so on, and over time you’ll notice changes and trends. I’ve found it interesting chatting to other birders, who’ve been visiting the area for decades – they certainly have many tales to tell.

A local patch is also great for developing skills as a birder. Spending many hours mostly watching commoner species helps to get a good grounding, so when that something else turns up you’ll be ready to pick it out. Who knows, it could be you who finds the next mega on patch! It’s certainly helped me improve, especially as the locals are welcoming and encouraging!

I’m not sure there will be a repeat of these past 2 years, in terms of rare birds at least. That won’t stop me trying and living in hope though. Asides from becoming a birder, patch birding is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as the years go by. Titchfield Haven well and truly has a place in my heart.

Where’s your local patch?

Amy Robjohns (@Amythebirder)