Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Woburn Red KiteI count myself fortunate to have witnessed the re-establishment of Red Kites in this part of Bedfordshire.  I saw the first one here only a few years ago, and it was a real event for me.  Now, while not exactly abundant, they are more common.  There have been times over the summer when I’ve watched a kite from the comfort of my sofa through the french windows.  However, we’ve recently discovered a spot not too far away where you can see the Red Kites almost on demand.  It’s only in one small localised area, and it’s a great example of how habitat and food availability shapes the distribution of a species.  I’ll explain.

We’ve recently got a season ticket for Woburn Safari Park.  It’s on our doorstep, they offer a good deal on an annual ‘toddler pass’ and Scarlett is old enough now to appreciate the animals (and the indoor play area).  It means I can go with Scarlett to the library on a Saturday morning and drive home through the safari park, just for the fun of it.  The carnivore enclosure is always a favourite, with bears, wolves, tigers, lions – and Red Kites.

Yes, the kites seem to have taken up residence here.  On my last visit there were three of them, circling and swooping low over the park.  Why do they gather at this spot, and not anywhere else in the vicinity?  Here’s a clue:

Wolf with meat

The wolf has just picked up its breakfast.  The animals in this part of the park are fed on meat – it’s the carnivore enclosure.  Red Kites are carrion feeders.  Obviously the wolves and bears and lions leave enough scraps for the kites to feed on.  They’ve found a regular source of food and are making the most of it, hence we’ve got a concentration of them in this small area, whilst my house (which is no distance at all away for a kite) gets relatively few.

It seems a bit odd to have to go to a safari park to see a wild bird, but it shows that nature finds a way, and it has helped me to get my best picture of a Red Kite so far.  I did have to take it through the car window though – getting out for a closer view wasn’t really an option…

Wolf - looking menacing

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Just a few quick notes to show that I’m still here, and I haven’t been killed off by bovine TB or a virulent disease caught from a dead animal by the roadside.  But another month has gone by and what’s the closest I’ve got to a badger?

Shaving Brush

That’s right, the nearest I’ve been to a badger is my shaving brush.  And even that isn’t very close (arguably the finest shaving brushes are made from badger hair, but mine isn’t – it didn’t seem right somehow).  Anyhow, suffice it to say that I haven’t been near badgers lately.

Actually, this isn’t strictly true.  There’s been a couple of road casualties, one of which I had to move off the road.  This was an adult female in the spot that I saw a live badger in February last year. The other was in the usual spot for road casualties around here, the big wood where there have been most of the deaths.  There must be a very substantial sett in this wood to sustain this number of road casualties over the years.

What else has happened?  I got an unexpected parcel through the door the other day.  It was a book – ‘Urban Mammals – a concise guide‘ by David Wembridge.  It’s published by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and it’s a great book – a thoughtful and informed look at the common, and not so common, urban species, from foxes to bats.

Urban Mammals by the People's Trust for Endangered Species

Why did it come through my door?  Well, it wasn’t entirely unexpected, to be honest.  I was contacted by the Trust a few months ago who had found this blog and asked me if they could use some of my pictures in the book.  Of course I was happy to help a worthwhile charity, they used the pictures and in return they sent me a copy of the book.  I’m very grateful, and it is a very good book.

What else?  There have been a lot of buzzards flying over the house lately – I hear them mewing as I sit in our living room.  One day I looked out to see what looked at first sight to be a seagull, but on second glance seemed to be a very pale, almost white, buzzard.  It had drifted out of sight by the time I’d dashed in and returned with the camera.  There were reports of a white buzzard in the area a while ago, so perhaps this was it?

What else?  On the subject of birds, I took Scarlett to the lake at Woburn to feed the ducks today.  There’s a family of black swans in residence that are interesting to see.  Black swans are introductions from Australia, which fits with them being on an estate lake (and given all the other species the Dukes of Bedford have introduced…). The RSPB website says they rarely breed in the UK, but these ones obviously have done.

Feeding the black swans at Woburn

Anyhow, after throwing in bread for a good five minutes I looked to the side and there was a heron perched on a tree, quite oblivious to us.


There’s a lesson to me to be more observant next time!

I’ll be back soon – there’s a whole bunch of correspondence I need to catch up on too, so bear with me…

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Parakeets in the Office Car Park

Well well.  Here we are on March 21st.  The Spring Equinox.  Hasn’t the year flown by?  It seems like only the other day that we had snow and ice, and now the days are longer, the trees are in bud and the Blackthorn is in flower.  It seems that spring has well and truly arrived.

I’m conscious that I haven’t been on here much lately.  There’s a few reasons for this, but they all boil down to the fact that I haven’t done much.  You see, I don’t do things just so I can write about them.  People sometimes say to me that they couldn’t write a blog because they don’t think they could do enough to fill it.  To me, this is putting it the wrong way round.  The blog is simply a diary, a record of what you’ve done, and I haven’t done much.

Partly it’s because I’ve been busy at work.  I’ve just returned from a business trip to Saudi Arabia, for instance (sandstorms, and absolutely no wildlife!) and work does otherwise take up a certain amount of time.  Partly it’s because of Mrs BWM’s shift patterns, since when she’s at work in the evenings then I need to stay at home parenting.  A lot of it is because young Scarlett is getting more independent-minded.  In the old days I could carry her around the fields and she’d be happy with that.  She’s now got to the age where she’s less easily impressed and she has the language skills to say ‘No Daddy, I don’t want to go out. I want to watch Thomas the Tank Engine’. Which she does.  A lot.  Although I still take her out (for educational purposes) we tend to spend more time at the playground, or feeding ducks, or other, more fun, places.

So what news is there?  Well, there was a dead badger on the road a couple of weeks ago, in the same place I saw the polecat a couple of years ago (see https://badgerwatcher.com/2010/06/27/a-very-much-alive-polecat/).  It isn’t safe to stop and look closely, but I haven’t seen a badger here before so it’s a new spot on the map.

And talking of badgers, I saw a badger on our road yesterday evening, at 7.31pm to be precise.  This is good, partly because I like the idea of a badger being on the same road as me, partly because I’ve waited ages to see it.  This is undoubtedly the badger that I regularly track in the field behind my house.  I feel I know it already, so it was good to finally meet in person.  If only I could entice it a couple of hundred yards into my garden…

Finally, I’ve added a new bird to my life list.  I work in an office in suburban Surrey, near Surbiton, which is actually more leafy and wooded than you might think.  It turns out that our office car park is home to a small flock of a dozen or so Parakeets.  Now the days are longer and I’m in the car park in daylight I’ve started to notice them.  Parakeets are a naturalised species across a lot of London, and some people complain about them because they can be quite noisy, but I quite like them.  They add a bit of colour to the office in more ways than one.  I was told that they are descendants of birds that escaped from Henry VIII’s menagerie at nearby Hampton Court.  Not sure if I believe that one, but they’re interesting enough all the same.

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Birdwatching Update

Hi E J – that’s an impressive list you have now.  Good work!

By way of response, here’s my own efforts, which consist mostly of feeding the ducks at Woburn Deer Park.

Feeding the Ducks at Woburn

The Canada Geese are acting strangely, honking and hissing at each other.  I think it must be something to do with mating season.  Here’s what a Canada Goose threat display looks like:

Canada Goose Threat Display

And the swans are getting friendly too – being a protective Dad I kept Scarlett firmly behind me as this one came bullying me for bread:

Swan - getting a bit too close

Now, contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe that a swan can break your arm with its wing.  But I still didn’t want it anywhere near my daughter.   Luckily they don’t move too fast on land.

So – still no Reed Buntings or Common Scoters, but at least it keeps me out of mischief…

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I went out with Scarlett to the lakes at Woburn Deer Park on Sunday to look for ducks.  She insisted that we bring bread to feed them.

There weren’t many birds – a couple of pairs of Tufted Ducks and Coots.

Tufted Duck

Tufties used to be a real scourge when I was fishing a lake in Kent, years ago, but they’re a new tick for me here in Bedfordshire.

Oh yes, and there were a few pairs of Mallards, who were very grateful for some old crumpets.

Feeding the ducks at Woburn

Throwing bread to ducks isn’t quite hardcore birdwatching, but do I have to admit that it was fun.

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OK – Scarlett and I did the hour-long birdwatch while enjoying a late breakfast.  The idea is record the maximum number of each species seen (to avoid counting the same bird twice).

I’ve submitted the results to the RSPB website.  The final score was:

  • Goldfinch 4
  • Blue Tit 5
  • Collared Dove 2
  • Blackbird 4
  • Sparrow 4
  • Starling 1
  • Robin 1
  • Great Tit 1
  • Dunnock 1

Disappointingly, the Greenfinches and Chaffinches we regularly get in the garden didn’t make an appearance, nor the more unusual species such as Woodpeckers and Jays that occasionally pop in.  But that’s how it goes with any sampling technique – the data all evens out if enough people do it.


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GoldfinchJust a quick note to remind you about the Big Garden Birdwatch.  If you haven’t done it today, there is still time tomorrow.  Scarlett and I will be doing it tomorrow morning.

It only takes an hour, it gets you closer to your local wildlife and you’ll be helping to monitor bird numbers across the country.

See http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/takepart.aspx for full details of how to take part.

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