Sunday, 30 January 2011

Cromford and Carsington Water - 30th January 2011

Welcome to my last blog of the month. Today saw the family head up to the Severn Trent reservoir of Carsington Water, via Cromford Wharf, for a spot of winter birding.

First stop was the Derbyshire County Council car park in Cromford Canal, a traditional winter birding spot for Hawfinch. Birds are regular here in the winter months and we were not disappointed as one was immediately spotted at the entrance to Willersley Castle. It sat at the top of a tree for a good 5 minutes and, despite the grey conditions, I managed to get a few decent shots. Note the enormous bill on the bird below!


 Next stop was Carsington Water where a redhead Smew had been frequenting the dam area for a few weeks. Our search started at the Millfields Car park, and we spent a cold, but enjoyable, half an hour searching amongst the 150+ Tufted Duck, dozen or so Goldeneye, Canada Geese and Coot for the diminutive "sawbill". Unfortunately our first attempts were unsuccessful so we decided to warm up in the restaurant at the Visitors' Centre. After a spot of lunch (veggie breakfast- nice!!) we had a quick walk down to the main hide, which was surprisingly quiet, with "just" 50+ Wigeon, Tree Sparrows, a few Black-headed Gulls and Mallards.


We then headed back up to the dam wall to have another look for the Smew. Another search through the Tufties eventually paid dividends when the bird was spotted diving and fishing just 20m from the bank. Again, the bad light and the bird's constant diving didn't make it easy to get a photo, but, with persistence, we eventually managed a few record shots.

Redhead Smew

Whilst watching the Smew, we also noticed a couple of Ruddy Duck, a real rarity nowadays, a group of approximately 50 Lapwing feeding on the fields behind the dam and three Pink-footed Geese, which flew directly over our heads! Not quite sure where they came from or whether they're "real", but nonetheless a good record which I sent into the Derbyshire Ornithological Society.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Linacre Reservoir - 29th January 2011

A thin layer of ice covered about 70% of the reservoirs when I arrived at about 8am this morning, and the temperature hovered around the minus 2 degrees. Despite this, a good number of birds were present, the highlight being 6 Goosander, including 3 males, on the bottom and middle reservoirs. Tufted Duck numbers were good, with 20 being seen, as were Mandarin Duck which numbered 22, most seen in the ice-free water around the overflow on the bottom reservoir. 1 Little Grebe was spotted with a big fish in its mouth on the middle reservoir and Black-headed Gull numbers were still quite high with 42 present.

A Common Buzzard was heard over the woods and a flock of approximately 20-30 Lesser Redpoll were heard and glimpsed high up in the tops of the Larches on the north side of the middle reservoir.

Lesser Redpoll

1 Great spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming briefly and Redwing were heard flying over.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Raptor Persecution in Derbyshire

I know this isn't my usual type of post, but I thought it might be of interest to everyone with an interest in our native birds of prey, especially those living within our own county.

Warning: this doe not make pleasant reading!!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Yorkshire Sculpture Park - 23rd January 2011

A favourite place for us to visit is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, just off the M1 at junction 38. Although not a birdwatching spot as such, it is set within the Bretton Country Park and as a result, a good selection of common birds can often be seen when walking around the grounds looking at the various sculptures.

Today we parked in the Country Park carpark and walked the 2km up to the Visitors' Centre. The walk passed by the lake where approximately 100 Black-headed Gulls and 1 Common Gull were sat on the ice. A few Mallard were also present along with 6 Goosander (2 male and 4 female), but the real highlight of the day were the 6 Grey Herons that had returned to the heronry and were perched up in the top of the trees. Although a little early to begin breeding yet, it won't be long until the first eggs are laid. The site can be seen very well from bridges in the area, if you use a telescope, and the noise of the chicks can be heard from alot further away.

Grey Heron

This area and the nearby river are good spots to see both Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail, but today we "dipped" i.e. missed, both these species! Our walk continued across open grassland , where a party of 80'ish Canada Geese were grazing the grass. Next was a small wooded area, where we managed to see and hear Nuthatch, Long-tailed Tit, Blackbird, a singing Song Thrush and a Mistle Thrush.

After a spot of lunch in the Visitors' Centre (very nice!!) we headed back to the car park adding Bullfinch (2 stunning males), Blue and Great Tit, Goldfinch, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow and Redwing to the list.

This site is a great place for a day out at anytime of the year. Visits during the spring will obviously give you great views of the herons, but the lake also has breeding Great-crested Grebes, Little Grebe, Mute Swans and Mallards and the surrounding scrub and woodlands hold a number of summer migrants (Whitethroat, Blackcap etc..) and Yellowhammers.

One last thing before I go. Last summer we went for a walk around the grounds and stumbled across this amazing Golden Pheasant, sunbathing in the rhododendrons. I don't know whether it was a one-off or part of a  feral breeding population, but it looked good and I couldn't resist getting a photo.

Garden news - 23rd January 2011

One of the best things about birdwatching is that you can do it "anytime, anyplace, anywhere". The garden therefore, is always a great spot  for a bit of "birding therapy".

As I've mentioned before, I've been actively recording the birds in my garden as part of the BTO's Garden Birdwatch Scheme since 1999. As such it was that this morning I was watching the antics of the local Woodpigeons, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Dunnocks, Robin (back down to single figures, now the cold weather has gone), Chaffinches, Collared Doves etc when I spotted an old friend, the white Blackbird first seen back in September and written about in this blog on 27th December. After a period of about 2 weeks with no sign of him, he's suddenly reappeared in the garden, as bossy and argumentative as ever!

This sighting, however, was totally overshadowed, when I looked up into the trees to see a gorgeous male BRAMBLING. This species is usually recorded once or twice a year in the garden, but more often than not in late March/early April when birds are presumably on the move back north. As such, this record is very early, but nevertheless, very pleasing and will find its way into both the Garden Birdwatch archives as well as the Bird Atlas. Note the white rump which can just be seen between the wings and the orange "shoulder", which help seperate it from the much more common Chaffinch. Just managed to grab a quick, pretty awful, photo before it disappeared.

                                               Male Brambling, just before he flew away!

As evidence that Spring is just around the corner, a pair of Magpies, are busy rebuilding last year's nest in the tree at the bottom of the garden. I know they're not everyone's favourite, but I say "live and let live".

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Nestbox cleaning at Linacre - 22nd January 2011

Following the cancellation of this event at the end of 2010 due to the bad weather, we eventually managed to get together to check last year's boxes and give them a good clean out before the new breeding season begins. As well as checking the existing boxes we also put up a further 28 boxes in an area to the east of the top reservoir, making a total of 86 boxes in total.

83 of the boxes are either tit boxes or open fronted boxes, with a Kestrel box, a Treecreeper box and an owl box, which we hope will be used by the local Tawny Owl population and not by the resident Grey Squirrels!

Inside the Kestrel box!!

Our target bird is the Pied Flycatcher, which we have recorded in the woods for at least the last 5 years and which has nested in our boxes on 2 previous occasions, in 2008 and 2010. With this in mind the new boxes have been placed in what we feel is ideal habitat for this bird. Fingers crossed!!!

                                                   Pied Flycatcher using one of our boxes in 2008

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Linacre WeBS Walk - January 15th 2011

9 people braved the awful weather forecast to join me for the first BTO WeBS walk of the new year (many thanks for the great turn out!) Despite a slightly damp start and a few rain showers, the morning walk turned out to be much more enjoyable than I had imagined it would with a total of 23 species seen  and a great opportunity to catch up with several people who I hadn't seen for quite awhile!

The first, and for me at least, the best birds of the day were 2 male Goosander found swimming on the bottom reservoir. This species is an annual winter visitor to Linacre, usually seen between January and April and again in November and December. It can, however,be quite tricky to catch up with, so today's sighting was quite special.

Male Goosander

Also on the bottom reservoir this morning were good numbers of Tufted Duck (30 in total), 1 Little Grebe, a Cormorant perched high up in a tree, the first of 83 Mallards, as well as Mandarin, Moorhen and Coot. A Grey Wagtail found by the river was the first for the year and a welcome sight after all the cold weather in December.

Walking up to the middle reservoir we soon came across more waterbirds, including 14 Black-headed Gulls, another Little Grebe and an amazing 41 Mandarin Ducks.

Male Mandarin hiding behind some branches!

Continuing on up the valley through the woods towards the top reservoir we soon added a few woodland birds such as Treecreeper, numerous Nuthatch and the usual tit species. The reservoir itself was pretty quiet with just a few more Mallards, Coot and Moorhen. The last bird species of the day was another new one for the year; Jay, 2 of which were heard and seen around the car park, as we were changing out of our muddy boots.

Also of note were a pair of "boxing" Brown Hares seen in the field by the main entrance whilst driving out- very nice!

Next month's walk takes place on Saturday 12th February, meeting in the bottom car park at 8.30am and is open to anyone, so please feel free to come along and join in. Who knows what we'll see?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

St Mary's Island, Northumberland 9th January 2011

The family and I zipped up the Newcastle today to visit our son, so whilst up there I also took the opportunity to have an hour at a favourite place of mine, St Mary's Island. This "island" is a small piece of land located just off the coast near Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, with a lighthouse on it that is surrounded by the sea at high tide. At low tide, as it was today when I got there, it's possible to walk across to the lighthouse, but for a birder, the best thing about this site is the large expanse of sand and rocks which are exposed, providing excellent feeding and roosting opportunities for a wide range of waders.

                                                                      St Mary's Island

The first birds that you see as you arrive at this site are the dozens of Black-headed Gulls hanging around the car park. The odd Common Gull was in amongst them, but they were much shyer and kept down to the rocks. Waders were everywhere, the most obvious and noisy being Turnstones, but there were also good numbers of Ringed Plover (at least 10), Sanderling ( a flock of approximately 50/60 feeding on the waters edge), Knot (80+), Golden Plover (60+), Curlew (10+) in the fields by the entrance, Dunlin (10), Redshank (20+), Purple Sandpiper (2) and Oystercatcher (30+). In addition to the waders I also noted a Rock Pipit and a Pied Wagtail feeding on the rocks.

                                                       Common and Black-headed Gull

                                                         Roosting Knot and Oystercatcher

In addition to being an excellent site for a winter's day visit, it is also worth noting that the rocks are a great site in late summer (end of August especially), for roosting Terns from the nearby Farne Islands. It is particularly good for adult and juvenile Roseate Terns! Hopefully  more about that later in the year.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Apperknowle 8th January 2011

The fields around Apperknowle in North East Derbyshire are a good spot to visit during the winter months as you can often locate a few hard-to-find species such as Grey Partridge.

So it was this afternoon when I headed up there for  half an hour. Straight away I spotted 11 Grey Partridge huddled in the middle of one of the field just by Snowdon Lane. Although they were quite distant, I managed to get good views through the 'scope and I even managed to get a shot or two. Whilst up there I also flushed 4 Red-legged Partridge and a male Pheasant that were feeding in the same field. A small flock of 12 Fieldfare flew over, along with a couple of Redwing and 20 Lapwings were also feeding in the nearby fields.

Driving back home I managed to spot a Brown Hare crouching low in a field as well as an enormous mixed flock of at least 1000 Jackdaw, Rook and Carrion Crow feeding on a field just behind Unstone.

Monday, 3 January 2011


This morning, whilst watching a small flock of Redwings, Blackbirds and Fieldfares, which were feeding on the Hawthorn berries behind my garden, I suddenly became aware of a familiar "trilling" call of Waxwings. Looking out of the front window I was absolutely amazed to see a flock of approximately 30 birds perched up on the telephone wires right outside my house!!!
                                                              Waxwings outside my house!!!

Some years, when there is plenty of food on the breeding grounds of northern Scandinavia, very few Waxwings come to the UK, but the winter of 2010/11 is what birders refer to as a "Waxwing Winter", when large numbers of birds have arrived in the country. As a result there are literally thosands of birds spread around the country, but to see some so close to home has really made my day.

I ran out of the house with my 'scope and camera and managed to get a few shots as the birds flew down and fed on the berries of a neighbour's Rowan tree. Enjoy!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

A Day at the Seaside - Scarborough 2nd January 2011

It's become a bit of a family tradition to have a day at the seaside in the early new year and so this year we decided to visit Scarborough for the day.

Scarborough Harbour

When we arrived it was just 1 degree celsius, a chill wind was blowing and it had just begun to rain! However, being the "hardcore birders" that we are we did a quick circuit of the harbour to locate the juvenile Iceland Gull and Great Northern Diver that had been reported on Birdguides. I'm very glad we did, because both birds were still there and we managed to see them both before the rain got harder and began to turn to sleet!

After a spot of lunch in the local pizzeria, the sleet had gone and the sun had come out (well nearly!) Another circuit of the harbour and a quick scan over the south bay added Great-crested Grebe, Cormorant, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull to the day's list.

                                                                     Great Black-backed Gull

A quick walk on the pier saw us surrounded by a group of approximately 30/40 Turnstones and, as a lovely surprise, 2 winter plumaged Sanderling, all the way from Arctic Canada!!!

Turnstones feeding on discarded bread

Sanderling feeding behind a fenced off area, not in jail!!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year's Day at Linacre

A 2 hour walk first thing this morning got the new recording year off to a good start. Despite the weather; grey, overcast and drizzly and a lack of much ice- free water, I managed to see 28 species, including  a great count of 85 Mallards, 31 Black-headed Gull, 6 Moorhen, 11 Coot, 11 Tufted Duck and 5 Mandarin.

Small birds were much in evidence, the highlight for me being a tiny Goldcrest, feeding in the conifers.

Two bird of prey species were noted, namely a male Sparrowhawk "flap, flap, gliding" over the top reservoir and a Buzzard flying through the beech woods.
Common Buzzard

All in all a great start to 2011.  Happy New Year to everyone who knows me and good birding!!!