Hi there everyone. You might have noticed that there haven't been any posts for over a week now, but that's because I've been away celebrating my 40th birthday on the Greek island of Lesvos. The birding was absolutely amazing with 133 species seen, including 41 lifers!!! I'm not going to put every sighting on the blog, but when I've written up the trip report I'll add a link for anyone who wants to read the whole thing.
Here are a few photos of some of my favourite birds seen this week and a link to a super website with details of everything you need to know about birding on this island.
Thanks to the Easter holidays I managed to get down to Linacre this morning. The weather was absolutely gorgeous with bright blue skies and I got 2 new year ticks for the site and evidence of breeding for Song Thrush and Blackbird.
The first year tick came in the shape of a singing Whitethroat in the scrub by the top reservoir. Unfortunately it wouldn't show itself, but here's a photo I took of one last year at Carsington Water.
In the same area there were at least 4 Willow Warblers that were also singing and displaying and I managed to get some decent photos. Note the pale legs and prominent supercilium (stripe above the eye), which help to distinguish it from the very similar looking Chiffchaff. As well as these i.d. points, the easiest way to tell the two species apart is to hear them singing, as the Chiffchaff sings its name (here) and the Willow Warbler sings a very distinctive descending song. (here)
The second year tick was a Lapwing that landed on the top reservoir whilst I was photographing the Willow Warblers. Unfortunately it only stayed for a few minutes and then flew off down the valley. Also on the top reservoir today were a Canada Goose and the hybrid bird, 18 of the 21 Mallard ducklings seen at the weekend and several Tufted Duck. 3 Great -crested Grebes were around, but I couldn't see any Common Sandpipers today (2 were reported on Monday - thanks Kathy).
Canada Goose and hybrid bird
2 Brown Hares were seen running through the woodland near the picnic benches, a Song Thrush was seen collecting food on the dam bank and a female Blackbird was seen collecting nesting material. Blackcap were heard singing and both a male and a fmale bird were seen. What a wonderful place this is!!
After my early morning visit to Linacre I popped up to Barbrook Plantation, a small area of woodland on the edge of moorland in the Peak District, and part of the RSPB's newly -established Eastern Moors Partnership. This is a regular spot for me in early spring to catch up with a few summer migrants and today's visit allowed me my first views of Tree Pipit. At least three individual birds were singing and displaying from the trees and I also managed to get a half decent shot of one against a beautiful blue sky.
Willow Warblers were in abundance here today with at least 6 singing and another sure sign of summer was a pair of Curlew "bubbling" in the background and 1 Skylark singing overhead. Resident birds seen were: Song Thrush (collecting food, another record for the Bird Atlas), Lesser Redpoll "buzzing" overhead, Chaffinch, Kestrel, Blackbird, Robin, Treecreeper, Meadow Pipit, Carrion Crow and Wren. 2 Canada Geese also flew overhead and landed in the stream by the bridge. I'll pop back later in the season to search for the ever-elusive Redstart and late-arriving Spotted Flycatcher.
Because we were busy checking the nestboxes yesterday we didn't really do much for the monthly WeBS count. Combined with this was the fact that we'd seen an unidentified wader on the middle reservoir yesterday, so I returned to Linacre this morning to carry out the count, check on the Pied Flycatcher and see if I could relocate and identify the wader.
As it turned out I made the right decision because I scored on all fronts. Firstly the wader we'd seen yesterday was relocated back in the same spot and turned out to be a Common Sandpiper!! It wasn't what I'd thought it was yesterday, and I won't embarrass myself anymore by repeating my initial idea here (sorry everyone that was present yesterday) , but it was nevertheless a good record. Our last records was back in 2009 when 1 was seen once and in May and July 2008 when 2 were present . With the reservoirs very low this year and therefore lots of potential breeding habitat available, perhaps we'll get lucky this year and this bird will find a mate and breed? I'll keep you up to date with any developments.
Next job for this morning was to check on the male Pied Flycatcher seen and heard singing yesterday. I returned to the same area where we'd found him yesterday and soon saw him feeding high up in the treetops. He wasn't singing much today and I soon found out why - he'd already got himself a female bird!! Both the male and female birds were then seen to investigate one of the group's nestboxes! Interestingly the same box that was used successfully by this or another pair of Pied Flycatchers in 2008 and thankfully one that wasn't already being used by the Blue or Great Tits Again, I'll let you know what happens next.
The final "job" this morning was to try and carry out the WeBS count. Given the low water levels in the top and middle reservoirs there were very few birds about and the counts were pretty poor. The only exception being Mallard, whose numbers were boosted with the 21 ducklings still feeding happily with their parents on the top reservoir and another interesting year tick in the shape of an Oystercatcher that flew straight up the valley calling loudly all the way! Unfortunately, it didn't stop for a photo, but it may return and join the Common Sandpiper on the muddy shoreline. Counts for the waterbirds this month were: Little Grebe (heard), Great-crested Grebe (3), Mallard (35), Coot (7), Moorhen (5), Tufted Duck (12), Canada Goose (4 flying down the valley honking loudly), Mandarin (3 males).
As you might have noticed, I've changed the picture at the top of the blog today and replaced it with one taken this morning of this year's Bluebells. They just looked so good this morning as we arrived to carry out the first check of the nestboxes, I couldn't resist.
Just to let people know, we monitor all the nestboxes around the reservoirs as part of the BTO's Nest Record Scheme. Any nests that are located are reported to the BTO and details of any eggs or young present are also recorded. The BTO then uses this information, together with other recorders' information from across the country, to monitor the success or otherwise of our native birds' breeding attempts. Disturbance is kept to an absolute minimum with weekly visits lasting just a few seconds to check and count the eggs and birds. As with all bird watching or recording the birds' welfare must always come first!
This year we've got a total of 88 nestboxes in the woodlands surrounding the three reservoirs. The majority are bog standard "tit boxes"(70 in total) with a few open fronted ones (15) thrown in with the hope of attracting Spotted Flycatcher, Robins or Wrens to nest. Unfortunately, in the 6 years that they've been in place we haven't had any luck whatsoever in attracting these species! In addition we've also got 1 Treecreeper box (again totally ignored by the resident Treecreepers), 1 Owl box and 1 Kestrel box in place as well.
First port of call this morning was the Kestrel box. Last time it was checked back in January (see here), there was evidence of some use by what we believed were Grey Squirrels. Today's check was a lot more promising as the picture below shows.
Something, possibly Stock Dove, has been very busy! As you can hopefully see, there is a nest right at the back with an obvious depression in it. No eggs were present today, but I will definitely be keeping an eye on it and will hopefully have something to report later on in the season.
Next up was the Owl box. As soon as we approached it, it was obvious that something had been using it, as a small, white, downy feather was stuck to the hole. We approached very carefully and gently tapped on the bottom of the box to alert the occupants of our arrival. A large, brown bird flew out of the box and into the nearby trees. Straight away we recognised it as a female Mandarin Duck! As this box is quite high, and because we didn't want to cause too much discturbance, we took a picture of the contents and moved away.
9 Mandarin eggs!!
The photo shows 9 perfect Mandarin eggs sat on top of a nest of down. This is an amazing record because, although we've record broods of youngsters on the water in previous years, this is the first concrete proof that the Mandarins actually breed in the woodlands at Linacre.
Following on from all this excitement we carried on through the woods to check the other boxes. Out of the 70 tit and open fronted boxes we found a total of 9 nests with eggs, a further 25 with just a nest built, 1 with what we believe is a Hornet's nest and the remaining boxes were empty. If my maths is right that's a total of 10 nests with eggs and 26 with nests but no eggs, i.e. 36 out of 88 an occupancy rate of 40%!!
Walking around the rest of the reservoirs we also managed to hear and see our first male Pied Flycatcher of the year, singing heartily around the picnic area. Fingers crossed for a successful breeding season with this species too! Also present were singing Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff and Blackcap.
Other breeding success was in evidence when a pair of Mallard with a brood of 20+ tiny ducklings was found on the top reservoir. This is an excellent early record with the first confirmed breeding in 2010 being 6th June!!
A few butterflies were on the wing this morning, thanks to the warm sunshine. 3 species were identified as Peacock, Green-veined White and Speckled Wood.
I'm going back again in the morning, so hopefully I'll be able to get a picture of the Pied Fly to post on the blog as well. See you then.
I'd love to have been the person to have had this sighting, but unfortunately it wasn't to be! Not to worry though because at least we know they're back safely from Africa for what will hopefully be another successful breeding season.
Since 2006 when we put the boxes up we've had 2 successful breeding attempts and last year we had one pair in one of our boxes that managed to raise 8 young! Another 28 boxes were put up in January, so fingers crossed for a couple of pairs this year.
Also reported on the website today were a pair of Willow Tit nest building ( the first record for this year as well!) and 7+ Blackcaps singing. Spring really has arrived. Roll on the weekend and the group's WeBS walk!!
Last weekend I posted a few pictures of the top reservoir, which is being drained to allow some engineering work to be carried out and mentioned that the middle reservoir was being drained as well. This morning's visit, as well as giving me 3 patch year ticks (Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Greylag Goose), also allowed me a chance to get some pictures of the middle reservoir.
As mentioned above, more summer migrants had arrived this week and there were at least 4 Willow Warbler singing in trees by the top reservoir, 4 Blackcap in the woods and Chiffchaff numbers had increased to at least 7 birds. As well as these new birds there were 3 Greylag Geese on the middle reservoir with 2 Canada Geese. Interestingly, when I checked the records there were 4 Greylags present on the reservoirs on exactly the same date last year. Perhaps they were 3 of the same ones returning?
3 Greylags and 1 of the Canada Geese
A pair of Great-crested Grebe were on the middle reservoir today, but, looking at the lack of water, I 'd be surprised if they are successful this year. Perhaps more likely to breed successfully are the pair of Little Grebes that were on the bottom reservoir. This reservoir is still full and I think, likely to stay so. Mallard numbers at 32, were about average for this time of the year and Tufted Ducks were still very much in evidence, with 16 around the valley. 2 summer plumaged Cormorants were still present, the Magpies were still attending their nest and a pair of Jackdaw were seen inspecting the chimney on the house by the bottom reservoir. Fingers crossed for breeding as this would be a new record for the site. A Grey Wagtail was seen sitting on the wall by the bottom reservoir as well. A great morning in lovely sunshine.
Next Saturday is the next WeBS walk . We'll also start to check the nestboxes and hopefully record our first Swallows and perhaps Whiethroat as well?
One of the joys of carrying out survey work is that it quite often gives you a chance to visit certain parts of the countryside that are normally inaccessible to "joe public". For the last three years I've taken part in the RSPB's Volunteer and Farmer Alliance survey and have seen some great birds and enjoyed some super, early-morning walks in the local countryside.
The purpose of the survey is to help out farmers who are interested in improving the bird life on their farms, by surveying their land. This information is then passed onto the RSPB who analyse the results and offer advice on how to improve and increase the number and quality of birds on their land. The key species of concern are those farmland specialities such as Tree Sparrow, Grey Partridge, Skylark, Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer that have declined in number and distribution across large parts of the UK.
To take part in the survey you need to register with the RSPB, who will then put you in touch with a local farmer, usually in the local area, and then carry out three or four early morning walks throughout the breeding season.
This year's farm is in Blyth, Nottinghamshire. The area to survey is relatively small and took just over 2 hours to cover. Over twenty species were seen today and the highlight of this morning's walk was the good number of Skylark (6),singing and displaying over the fields. This bird is "red listed" i.e. of the highest conservation concern, and so will be a priority species for this farm. No other "red listed" birds were seen today, but a Sparrowhawk was recorded flying along the hedgerow and a good number of Red-legged Partridge were running around. The only summer migrants seen today were Chiffchaff, which were singing in nearby woodlands, but I'm sure this will change on the next visit in May.
For over a year now a Peregrine Falcon has been reported roosting on the Crooked Spire in the centre of Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Living just 5 miles away, I often go into Chesterfield to see family and do a spot of shopping. For the past year, therefore,I've been taking my 'scope with me to try and get a photo. Saturday 2nd April saw me doing the same thing and at long last I came up with the goods, when the bird was spotted high up on the spire - hurrah!!
Driving up to Linacre this morning I thought I'd stop off in Cutthorpe to check if there were any Waxwings still about. As luck would have it 8 were pereched up in trees by the cricket pitch/playing fields. As I had my 'scope with me I jumped out and got a few shots of the birds.
This day just gets better - 1 more blog to come!!
As I mentioned in my previous post today was another excellent day's birding. After visiting Burbage Moor I had a drive down to Linacre to catch up on the developments with the draining of the top reservoir. Here are a couple of images of what it looked like this morning.
As you can see, the water levels are well below the norm, I estimate at least 10-15m below. Despite this there were still several birds present including a summer plumaged Cormorant, 6 Mandarin Duck, several Mallard, Coot, Moorhen and approximately 10 Tufted Duck. No waders yet though! As I walked around the middle reservoir I noticed this was being drained as well so photos of that next week.
No new summer migrants were seen or heard today, but I did manage to locate and photograph a singing Grey Wagtail around the middle reservoir. Here he is, complete with open beak!
As well as the above birds I also noted the first few Bluebells of the year, just below the bottom car park, lots of newly-opened Wood Anemone and Celandine or Lesser Celandine and this lovely little plant which I can't name. Does anyone else know what it is? If so, please let me know.
After a no show last week I decided to make a return visit this morning with the hope of seeing Ring Ouzel. After about half an hour I heard a familiar sound and spotted one bird flying up the valley towards the edge. It didn't stop, but after another 10-15 minutes 3 birds were seen and heard chasing each other over the rocks. Unfortunately no photos today, as the birds were more interested in setting up territories than posing for me! Instead I've put in a picture of the edge itself- very nice.
Other birds present were Meadow Pipit and Wren (many birds singing and displaying), Stonechat (1 heard), Siskin, Fieldfare (8) and Linnet flying over, Kestrel hunting, Red Grouse and Pheasant calling and several Carrion Crows and Jackdaws also flying over. A great start to a lovely day, but more about that later.