Saturday, 19 April 2014

Swarovskis, Crossbills and even an Eagle!

Sorry I've not been blogging for a while, I've been away in Norfolk due to me giving a talk at the BTO Head Quarters. I shall be talking about that in a separate blog, however in this one I will be sharing with you what birding I got up to at Lynford Arboretum. Due to us living rather far away from Norfolk we decided to stay for a short while. We, as a family, were staying in a small cottage in Mundford. Throughout the journey we were joined by a student studying Zoology at university called Harry Martin who enjoyed watching the Red Kites with us on the way.

When we all finally arrived, we decided to take a visit to Lynford Arboretum which was just within a mile from where we were staying. Apparently the site was a good place to see Two Barred Crossbills, however throughout the first trip at this site we didn't manage to see them. Nevertheless we still did manage to see some other great birds...

(Now I haven't mentioned that A Focus On Nature, or AFON, has kindly offered me some Swarovski binoculars for a month.  AFON and Swarovski have clubbed together to find 12 young wildlife enthusiasts to share the bins over 12 months and record as many species as they can with them; so if you unfortunately don't see the bird with the binoculars it doesn't count, even lets say if it was a Hudsonian Godwit. The binoculars arrived from James Shooter on the very morning we were setting off for Norfolk, perfect timing.)

..Anyway back to Lynford Aboretum. As soon as we arrived into the car park, bird song filled are ears, and could easily pick one out; the Firecrest! (The first bird I saw through the bins, not bad aye), not the rarest of birds (but still not common) however one of the most stunning. As it stood perched in a rather large Beech Tree, it continued to sing; now though flaring it's head at us and the people around us. The next bird I saw through them was a singing male Chaffinch.

After a good ten minutes of watching the Firecrest we moved on further down the path, we soon came across a feeding station, of course it was full of Titmice, Chaffinches and the odd Nuthatch and Blackcap. What really caught my eye was the male Brambling, and I've got to say he really was a stunner. I managed to take a couple of snaps before he took to the trees.

We did visit this site (Lyford Arboretum) twice, so I am now moving onto part two of the Aboretum if you like, however this time the first bird I saw and actually heard was a ringed Marsh Tit, beautiful as they look, they still take a bit of work to get a good picture (which in my opinion I almost managed to do).

As we continued our walk we soon came to a large area of pine forest, we all as a family though it would be nice to stray a bit from the path to see what was about. RUSTLE, RUSTLE, RUSTLE, went the grass. As I looked up a pine cone crossed paths with my eyes I looked up further and my eyes came to a stunning male Crossbill, tearing the pine cones apart then licking the seeds out. What a perfectly designed beak for the job.

As I went to tell mum, dad and my brother, they were soon looking up in amazement, even though I've seen Crossbills before I have never had as good views as this.

As my Swarovski binoculars stuck glued to the male ( below right) Crossbill, my attention was turned to a female that had come to join it (below left). I was really amazed to see the amount of wildlife that place held, probably one of my best bird watching experiences ever.

And it just gets better...

Not in these pictures but towards the end of the trip something caught my eye in a Black Thorn tree, I then noticed a large group of birders staring at the same Black Thorn I was looking at, I looked through my (Swarovski) Binoculars and realized it was a stunning male Two Barred Crossbill.
I only got a couple of glimpses through a scope before it took off into the much larger Pine Trees. 
As we continued walking, listening to the Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, we soon came to a large pond, and as you can see this trip was not just about birds.

We were joined by what looked like a Grass Snake swimming through the water, I've got to say my mum spotted that, but nevertheless it was still such a pleasure to watch.

Of course we can't forget about the common birds, it was still lovely as ever to watch all the tit mice going to there nests and feeding, it really was amazing. 

When I said that the trip wasn't just about birds, it certainly wasn't, we again as a family were joined by some beautiful Orange Tip butterflies, the first time I had seen any this year.

I spent a bit of time enjoying and photographing these as they are my favourite butterfly (especially the male)

I saw and recorded quite a few butterflies whilst in Norfolk but the biggest was the most beautiful Brimstone.
 There were lots of these about, and gave us great views, but they wouldn't open their wings for a photo.

We also saw lots of deer whilst at the Arboretum (three species in fact) but this cheeky fellow was the Muntjac, and whether this makes you laugh, it certainly  makes me laugh sneaking behind the photographers, what a perfect way to end my time at Lynford. 

However that Muntjac didn't end the day; watching this eagle below (jet not bird!!!) did. We decided to visit the military base for my brother and I've got to say he really enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and I'll keep you updated with more news at my time in Norfolk.

So, the all the species seen so far with the Swarovkis bins are: Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Tree creeper, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Brambling, Siskin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Chiff Chaff, Black Cap, Willow Warbler, Gold crest, Fire crest, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Common Crossbill, Two Barred Crossbill, Sarling, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Carrion Crow, Raven, Rook, Grey Heron, Jackdaw, Reed Bunting, Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Mallard, Linnet and Magpie - and I've only had them for 5 days.

Now to get them in to action on my local patch.

(More blogs on Norfolk coming very soon including a fabulous lifer and an amazing conference at the BTO Head Quarters with AFON and other young birders, photographers and various environmental students.)

Monday, 14 April 2014

A Kestrel in the Bottom Pocket

I have been down at my Grandmas all last week as it's our school holidays. It was a good week - but that's for another blog.  Dad picked me up on Friday night and it was early to bed, as on Saturday I was able to go ringing again.

It was a calm, cloudy morning, so good conditions for ringing; however the session started off quite slow with us not catching many birds apart from a few tit mice, a few Redpoll and a Chiffchaff. A buzzard and a Kestrel were seen overhead on a number of occasions and watched them swoop and hover.

After a couple of net rounds the bird numbers started to pick up a bit, catching two rather nice re-trap male and female Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and a re-trap Nuthatch. 

Birds such as woodpeckers eyes change colour generally to a more red colour as they get older - I wonder why that happens ? This picture doesn't show it that well but the iris was becoming a bit more reddish.

We were also delighted to catch this stunning male Yellow Hammer, this was the first one of the year, so it was quite exciting to catch. They are from the bunting family and I think they used to be called Yellow Buntings ?

Towards the end of the session, we all saw a rather large bird in the bottom pocket of one of our single nets. Peter went down to have a look and found it was a stunning Kestrel, perhaps this was the one we saw earlier in the morning 

No words needed here as I think the pictures say it all.

This particular bird was an adult  male, we could tell this because of its size and the grey colour of it's head. It weighed 196 grams.

As you can see in this picture, I was pretty nervous (but confident) handling this stunning bird of prey. It was really amazing to have the privilege of holding it, but remember the joy of holding it comes only after respecting the bird.

I certainly didn't expect to end the day with a Kestrel.

It's another busy week coming up and I am hoping to meet some of my younger blogging friends at a birding conference this week.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Willow Warblers Are Back

Saturday was ringing, a perfect way to start the Easter Holidays, we managed to avoid the rain and get a few hours of ringing. The day started off great; just as we started to spread the nets a Wood Pigeon shot into the net (Dan's favorite).

There were quite a few birds passing through. Birdsong was heard everywhere and a high pitched song caught our ear. It was a Willow Warblers song and later on as you can see in the picture we caught it, our first Willow Warbler of the year.

The majority of the birds we caught today were Blackcaps, two of which were females. We caught a retrap male from a couple of years ago, however most of the others were new.

It was really interesting to see how many were passing through. However, some of them were singing in the same place for quite a while which suggests they could have been on territory already.

I'm really looking forward to the start of our RAS ( Retrapping Adults for Survival ) project on Blackcaps which we will start in a couple of weeks.

We also caught a couple of  Chiffchaffs, however one in particular stood out; a retrap and a rather pale one. We soon realised it was the Siberian Chiffchaff we ringed in January. It must have stayed around so it will be interesting to see if the Siberian Chiffchaff continues to stay around during the breeding season.

We also caught two Linnets (Mark Avery's favourite birds) which is a new ringing bird for me. 

Other birds caught today included Robin, Blackbird, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Long Tailed Tit, Wood Pigeon, Blue Tit and Reed Bunting.

Off to Grandma's in Wales now for a week, can't wait; I will be watching out for the return of the Pied Flycatcher while I am there.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

200th Blog Post - Peregrine, Choughs, Wheatear and More!

Today is 1st April 2014 and one year eight months ago I started my WildeAboutBirds blog on the 8th of July 2012. And the reason I'm mentioning this is because you're currently reading my 200th blog post; a huge and important special leap in my network of birding and enjoying wildlife on both the computer and more importantly the great out doors. However, I wouldn't have got this far without all the support and help given by my parents and all of you fellow bloggers and supporters out there, commenting kind and helpful messages, all of which continue to inspire me to enjoy and protect nature as much as I can. 

Now, because this blog is rather special, I am going to be basing it on my first day at the Angelsey this year. Because it was Mother's Day last Sunday we as a family were suppose to be spending the day on the beach, however I couldn't help resist persuading mum and dad to take us all to South Stack to see what wonderful wildlife was hanging about. As well as there being lots of nature on South Stack , the actual journey through the country lanes and by the sea shore really blew me away. 

To start with, as soon as we reached the moorland leading up to South Stack. My ears were soon filled with the mating and usual call of the Stonechat, all together through out the whole day I counted a record number of 11 Individual birds (most of which were males). In a day of birding I'm usually lucky if I see one.

The Stonechats you can see in this picture were sat up perfectly on a fence next to a field full of gorse; perfect habitat for this species. As you can see in the picture there is a male (right) and a female (left) the handsome male was performing rather spectacularly it's courtship dance in front of the female.  

As you can see I was really intrigued by all the wildlife, and  even decided to lie down on the rather wet grass (I have got to say I got some great views).

All of a sudden I though I saw a glimpse of a Wheatear; but it wasn't a single Wheatear, it was in fact about 9 on them. A group of 7 males and 2 females.

The Wheatear were flitting across the grassy bits near the edges of the cliffs. They didn't seem too bothered by me.

And then suddenly my eyes got distracted by another bird and a first for me.......a Rock Pipit. Well I think it was, what do you guys think?

And then it was back to those stunning male Wheatears.

Even though it was a bit hazey, the view from the cliffs was amazing. 

As we approach the really high cliff at South Stack, something bobbing about in the sea caught my eye. A sleek Grey Seal gliding through the water, but stopping to have a good look round every now and then. Then it disappeared round the corner so it was time to look for something else, and that something else turned out to be epic.

A beautiful Peregrine Falcon sitting high up the cliff on a grassy ledge, watching us. I thought my heart would stop for a minute. I have never seen one so close for so long. The Peregrines do nest on the cliffs at South Stack.

Here it is again having a good look round. And then it was time to drive back round to some of the bays, but I had to shout S T O P!

In one of the fields near to South Stack I spotted a Hooded Crow, but on closer inspection it was a Hybrid Hooded Crow. I have contacted Ken Croft who knows everything about the birds on Angelsey and he said it was one of the offspring of a pure Hooded Crow that lived on South Stack for about 15 years. Don't you just love facts like that.

Here it is next to a normal crow.

And then the day got better still as 2 Choughs flew straight in front of us. I nearly exploded at this point.

After all the amazing birds and scenery, we sat on the beach for a bit to think about how lucky we are to be able to enjoy all this. The sun on the waves was the perfect end to a more than perfect day.

I hope you enjoyed my 200th blog, I can't think of a more perfect one.

From Findlay

Sunday, 30 March 2014

B-L-A-C-K C-A-P!

On Saturday I was ringing again. Now that the days are getting longer it means earlier starts like I witnessed yesterday. I was at one of my favorite sites and it definitely didn't disappoint. The day started off quite slow with a couple of ChiffChaffs and Blue Tits. We were ringing outside the reserve as well as inside the reserve we normally ring in, and took a look at some of the summer net rides that needed adapting as well as looking at some new ones.

One of the nets we put up (a single 15 meter) caught by far my bird of the day.... the first Black Cap of this year. An absolute male stunner as well. This Black Cap had a fat score of 3,  it was possibly still passing through.

You can see the clear moult limit on the wing here in the photo below

 Whilst we were at ringing, we were talking about how we didn't catch that many Reed Buntings at this site, however yesterday we caught 3 of them.  The male is on the left below and the female is on the right. I think these birds have stunning markings, so next time you see one, have a close look at those colours.

By the end of the day we'd caught 5 ChiffChaffs, we think some of them were just passing through.  Throughout the day I was also able to watch a Great Tit going back and to building it's nest, which reminds me, I need to do another check on those nest boxes at my feeding station in the woods near home.

The next blog post will be my 200th and after a day in Angelsey today, I have some amazing birds to blog about.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

WeBS Count Meeting at Wigg Island Last Week

 Last Thursday I couldn't wait to get home from school because I was going to our annual WeBS count meeting for the Mersey Estuary run by Dermot Smith.  WeBS stands for The Wetland Bird Survey and "monitors non-breeding waterbirds in the United Kingdom and is a partnership between the BTO, RSPB and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in association with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust".

I Try and volunteer to help out with the counts when I can, and will try even harder this year. It's a bit frustrating that some counting areas are not accessible to me as I'm under 16, but I can help Bill Morton at Frodsham Marsh, especially the waders on No.6 tank.

Our meeting was at Wigg Island by the Runcorn Widnes Bridge (below) and we arrived just before dark so we managed to fit in a bit of gull watching first.

The gulls were pretty much silhouetted against the clouds but I tried my best to identify some of them.

The Runcorn Widnes Bridge sometimes has big Starling murmurations, but there wasn't one about whilst I was there.

 The WeBS meeting was great, I met birding friends like Mike Buckley and Shaun Hickey, some new people and learnt lots of new facts.

It was really interesting as usual to see the numbers of birds that move about on the estuary and how their numbers are doing. The Mersey Estuary stretches for about 30 miles and is one of the most important wetlands in Britain and is internationally important for Shelduck, Dunlin and Black Tailed Godwit!

Black Tailed Godwits at Frodsham Marsh

Shelducks on the Weaver Bend

Wigg Island Visitor Centre

Volunteering for this is great because you get to be outdoors and watch some great wildlife and birds, and also help out with some worthwhile research. A perfect end to a school day. 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Goodbye to the Brambling until Next Year

Yesterday I was up reasonably early for ringing. As the days are getting longer, you need to have the nets up before dawn, which meant me and my dad were up at 3:30am for a 5am start. The birds were out and about very early too even though it was freezing cold. Soon to be leaving this country, we caught the second Brambling of the year (my brother ringed the first). Numbers we have caught this year are way down on last year, maybe due to the mild winter. This one will soon be heading off to Scandinavia. This was a great and hopeful start to the session, which continued to impress.

We also caught a large bird today, an old enemy to my dad the JAY!!! I let my dad ring this, and I've got to say I was really proud of him, he focused really hard and when it came to measuring the wing my dad was only 1mm out.

 On close inspection we found that this fabulous bird was a juvenile. They are lovely birds when you see them up close but you have to respect that beak and claws.

We were catching a steady number of Chaffinches yesterday, and because it is coming into the breeding season, the chaffinches are starting to come into their breeding plumage. As you can see in this picture below, there is a huge difference between the two. The one on the left has worn away all it's brown on the feathers and this has given way to the beautiful blue crown. The male on the right has still not worn off the brown on the feathers. There is also another difference because if you look at the bill you can see the one on the left has got a blue breeding plumage bill and the one on the right hasn't, instead it's got more of a dull orange bill.

 The site we were at is made up of lots of small trees, unlike the habitat of a Nuthatch, so it was really nice and quite unusual to catch one today. I was really quite pleased with the variety of birds we got to ring today (this Nuthatch was a female, the male has a much richer, chestnutty coloured flanks).

It wasn't just birds we saw today, the flowers were all starting to come out including this Colts Foot and also a few Cow Slips and even a small tortoiseshell butterfly made an appearance. 

As spring is now here I am very much looking forward to some new arrivals - I reckon Sylvia Atricapilla is only a couple of weeks away.

Other birds today included Chiffchaff, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Lesser Redpoll, Robin, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Song Thrush and Coal Tit.