Quality not quantity

Bletchingley Bird Ringing ~ 16th March 2014 ~ 

The last two times that we have visited this site, we have been run off our feet with birds. This time however, we had a lot less birds but we did get quite a few different species and time to examine each one carefully which was very nice!

There was a distinct lack of birds around when we arrived - this is probably because of the warm weather we've had recently. We put up a total of three nets around the property: one by the feeders at the front of the house, one in the woods, and one by the feeders in the back garden.

Blue Tit aged 6 in good condition with a weight of 11.6g
The above Blue Tit with a bill deformity

The birds trickled in throughout the session, the highlight was undoubtedly the male House Sparrow which was very cool to see in the hand.

4M House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) portrait
4M House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

A close second was the 5M Goldcrest which was a lovely surprise and a nice addition to Ralph and Pat's garden list!

5M Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Once again, many thanks to Ralph and Pat for their exceedingly good hospitality, constant supply of hot drinks, amazing bacon rolls and lovely lunch to end a successful ringing session.

Our totals for the day are as follows: 33 (13)

Blackbird - 1
Blue Tit - 17 (6)
Chaffinch - 0 (1)
Dunnock - 3 (2)
Goldcrest - 1
Goldfinch - 2
Great Tit - 4 (3)
House Sparrow - 1
Lesser Redpoll - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 1
Robin - 2 (1)

As always, thank you very much for reading and you can keep up to date with my activity on Facebook and Twitter and my website here.

AFON trip to Somerset

Somerset Levels ~ 1st - 2nd February 2014 ~ 

Although I am not yet an official member of AFON (for those of you who do not know, A Focus On Nature is a network for young conservationists aged 16-30), I was invited to take part in an event that was being organised in the Somerset Levels for the weekend.

We were very kindly invited to stay in Stephen Moss' cottage, which was the perfect base for the weekend and very nice to return to after a long day's birding.

Day 1:

On Saturday we started off in the Ham Wall car park where we divided into two teams. Our plan for the day was a birdwatching challenge followed by lunch and then heading to Shapwick Heath to watch the Starling murmuration.

My team, which consisted of Joe, Thea, Abbie and Evan headed to Ham Wall RSPB to do our challenge, meanwhile the other team, consisting of Ed, Simon, Bob, Leanne and her friend had Shapwick as their stomping ground.

Our first Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

After 3 hours of walking and birding, our team headed back to the car park to catch up with the other team and see how they'd got on. However, due to a sudden downpour, they had decided to wait it out in a bird hide before walking round to the visitor centre for some lunch. Our team drove round to meet them at the café and, getting there before them, bought the last two jacket potatoes and some bacon sandwiches to satisfy our stomachs.

A Rainbow that appeared 25 minutes after we
entered the hide at Shapwick.

When the other team arrived we were excited to compare our lists and see who had recorded the most species, alas, the other team made us wait until they'd finished their food. Once they'd finished, there was a quick drum roll and then Simon and Joe revealed the scores - my team had managed 43 species, while the other team had amassed an impressive 48 in total.

The weather when we sat down in the hide at Shapwick.
The weather after being in the hide for 30 minutes.

After some cheery banter and jeering had been exchanged, we decided to start walking to the hide at Shapwick where we would wait for the murmuration to happen. However, after waiting in the hide for a while, we noticed that the Starlings were gathering in large numbers but in the very distance...it was not looking good! We waited a while longer; a few large flocks flew over once the light had pretty much gone and a few Marsh Harriers throughout our time in the hide were the only things to keep us occupied.

One of the smaller groups of Starlings that made their way across the reed bed in a hurry - heading to Ham Wall!

Despite the fact we'd not seen the anticipated spectacle, it was still nice to chat to the other AFON members, and to Stephen who joined us for a while.

Once the light had almost gone, a few larger flocks flew
over the hide - the noise they made as they whooshed
over was incredible!

Only once the light had well and truly gone from the sky did we head back to the cars and then to Stephen's cottage where we got ready for dinner, relaxed for a while and then had a delicious dinner with all the AFON members, Stephen, his wife and their 3 lovely children. After this we chatted for a while and then retired to bed, exhausted from a great day and looking forward to the next.

Another one of the large flocks - the light had almost completely
gone by this point but I still wanted to capture the flocks and
their movement, so this image has had quite a lot of post-processing
done to it!

Day 2:

After a quick breakfast of toast and jam we headed to Westhay Moor where we were hoping to run a photography workshop for members of the public. Unfortunately, nobody turned up so we just went round the reserve as a group, getting to know each other and offering one another advice on everything from cameras to tripods to lenses. We spent most of the day wandering around, stopping at each of the hides for a while. The highlights were a distant Great White Egret, Marsh Harriers, Raven and Bittern which showed superbly.

A panorama from Westhay.
It was quite windy so I tried to capture that with
the movement of the reeds. 
Another landscape shot from one of the hides.
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) 
Marsh harrier hunting over the reeds (Circus aeruginosus) 
Teal (Anas crecca) flying over the reeds after being flushed by
the Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
The wind picked up quite a bit and so once again I tried to
capture this with the motion of the reeds.
Goldfinch on teasel (Carduelis carduelis)
The male and female Marsh Harries that flushed the Bittern in the images below.
Portrait view of the Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) in flight having been
flushed by the Marsh Harriers.
Landscape view of the Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) in flight having been
flushed by the Marsh Harriers.
A Buzzard (Buteo buteo) which perched on a dead tree outside one of the hides
Marsh Harrier flying amongst a frantic flock of Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Following this, we decided to give the Starling murmuration another go to se if we would be any luckier; only this time we headed to Ham Wall. The conditions were perfect, the light was excellent and our decision payed off - within the hour, huge groups of birds has started to form and thousands more were joining them by the second.








It was a truly incredible sight to witness, and one that I most certainly won't be forgetting in a hurry! We were treated to spectacular 'murmurs' and the birds performed amazingly until they finally descended into the extensive reed bed. Once the birds had settled in the reeds, the rest of the team decided to call it a day and head home; so we said our goodbyes and thanked everyone for an awesome weekend - but it wasn't quite over for me.





After the rest of the team had gone, I waited at the same spot for a little while longer before deciding to walk further up the path to see if there were any more birds around. The further along the path I walked, the louder a peculiar noise became. At first I wasn't quite sure what it was, but then I suddenly realised that it was actually the Starlings themselves chattering away amongst the reeds!!



I walked down a path that went right alongside one of the reed beds where the birds were roosting and just stood there, in complete awe and amazement at the sound being created. In all honesty I could have stood there listening to the birds all night but after some persistent nagging from my mum, we headed back to the car, drawing to a close our wonderful weekend in Somerset!



I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved, especially Simon and Joe for organising the weekend and Stephen and his wife for their wonderful hospitality and lovely dinner!

Some of the Somerset AFON team

As always, thank you very much for reading and you can keep up to date with my activity on FacebookFlickrTwitter and my website here.

Norfolk: Day 2


Norfolk ~ 18th - 20th February 2014 ~ 

Following on from a great first day, Alex and I were keen to make the second day even better! We had planned to head straight to Titchwell via Thornham to see if we could find the Twite, but our journey was delayed by quite a while when we located some Fulmars that were showing extremely well - flying just meters over our heads at times! We stayed with them for a while, well until I had filled up the only memory card I had with me that is. It was amazing to see them flying so low and to see them sat on the cliffs; I will definitely pay them a visit next time I visit.

Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)

After our slight delay we headed to Thornham but we struck out on the Twite, with only a Little Egret, Curlew, Stonechat and a single Black-headed Gull as consolation. However, we pressed on and got to Titchwell in good time.
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

At Titchwell we made a beeline for the beach, stopping briefly to get onto the female Scaup before it flew off and paying a quick visit to the Parrinder hide where we saw lots of waders. These were Redshank, Curlew, Bar & Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Ruff, Dunlin, Lapwing, Knot, Golden Plover and Turnstone. There were also quite a few Pintail resting on one of the islands which was lovely to see.

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

We then headed for the beach where large numbers of Scoters had been reported over the previous few days and as soon as we got onto the sand, two thin black lines were evident out at sea. Instead of standing at the back of the beach, by the somewhat reduced dunes, with the other birders, we made our way down to the shoreline where we had a slightly better view of the large Scoter flocks. Within seconds of scanning the closest flock, Alex said that he'd picked out a Velvet Scoter. This was very exciting for me as I'd never seen a Velvet Scoter before, mind you, I'd only ever seen 1 Common Scoter before then as well!! Between us we then picked up quite a few more Velvet Scoters and were wondering what else could be hiding among the huge flocks - there must have been about 6,500 Scoters in total...mind blowing!!

The black lines at the front and the back are all Scoters - there were loads!!
A very distant Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca)

Once we were satisfied with the views we'd had and that we'd not missed anything lurking in the flocks, we headed over to the rocks that had been revealed by the receding tide in order to try and photograph some of the waders (Alex and I share an unhealthy obsession for this cracking group of birds). There were lots of different species, including some we'd already seen but the new ones were Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Grey Plover.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

It is now a rule in my household that waterproof trousers must be worn when there is even the slightest chance I could be lying, crawling or kneeling down to photograph something, and Titchwell was of course no different. There was just one issue that I found out quite quickly after lying down on the rocks...they were no longer waterproof!

Me in my natural habitat, before I realised
my trousers weren't waterproof 
Me feeling very soggy but too busy photographing
the waders to care!
Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Embracing the cold water and wetness, I crawled into a position that I hoped would mean that the birds would think I was just a part of the rocks and continue on their way. Thankfully it worked and both Alex and I enjoyed extremely good views of the Grey Plover for quite some time.

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

After deciding that we'd had enough of lying down in the cold water, we retreated away from the birds before standing up and making our way back up the beach, dripping from head to toe. Unfortunately for us, the sand was very saturated and this caused a lot of sinking while we tried to get back onto the solid, stable sand.

This image shows just how wet and sinky the sand was!

At last we managed it and we headed back to the car park, only stopping to photograph a colour ringed Black-tailed Godwit that was quite close to the footpath - it obviously didn't like the look of us because as soon as we stopped, it started walking away from us.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

We headed back to the car and decided on our plan of action for the rest of the day - after a quick discussion, we settled on Holme NWT which we duly headed to.

A panorama taken on our way back to the car park -
Alex had just finished scanning the water to see
if he could locate the Scaup again

At Holme we paid the beach a quick visit, but the only birds present were in the distance and in our sodden state we didn't fancy the long and windy walk there and back, so we headed round to one of the hides.

The view overlooking Holme

Unfortunately it was locked so we made our way to the next hide which was open. We stayed there for an hour or two and saw a total of 11 Marsh Harriers fly in to roost (some continued onto Titchwell), a distant Barn Owl and our first Pink-footed Geese of the trip.

Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus)

Once it was getting dark we made our way back to the car and then headed back to the hotel, tired but satisfied with our second day of the trip.

Heading back to the car...
I will hopefully have the blog post on our final day in Norfolk finished within the next two weeks so watch this space. 

As always, thank you very much for reading and you can keep up to date with my activity on Facebook and Twitter and my website here