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Posts Tagged ‘Birds’

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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Goosanders on the lake

Goosanders - female on left, male on right

I’m afraid I’m not a very good birder.

I started keeping my list of Bedfordshire birds about two and a half years ago (see Birds of Bedfordshire: No.45 – The Dunnock).  At that time the list stood at 45 species positively identified.  I totted up the list again today, and in the intervening time it has only risen to 54.  Some people see that many birds in a morning, so I’m obviously taking it slowly.

Ever since I visited Malltraeth I’ve had birds on my mind.  I had an hour or two free this afternoon, which wasn’t enough time for any serious badger watching, so I decided to head up to the lake to see if there were any birds around.  After a mere 45 minutes of enthusing, cajoling and finally bullying, I managed to get Scarlett into her shoes and coat and into the backpack baby carrier, and we set off.  At which point she promptly fell asleep.

For some reason I associate the lake with birds.  It may be because it’s a different habitat to the rest of the local area and so attracts different species than the usual hedgerows, fields and woods.  This was the case today, as there was a small flock (10 or so) of Goosanders in residence.  Goosanders are fish-eating ducks with long, thin and slightly hooked bills.  I’ve seen their relatives, Mergansers, in Wales.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get very close as they were quite wary, and I wasn’t helped by a pair of Canada Geese on the bank who seemed to have taken on the role of sentries and honked crossly at me when I tried to come near.

Now, my (somewhat short) list of birds represents only those species that I have positively identified.  There’s loads more that I’ve seen and not taken notice of or not known what they are.  For instance, there was a flock of small, sparrow-sized birds in the top of a tree near the lake.  I disturbed them by getting too close, at which point they flew off to another tree.  I’m not familiar with birds that flock and perch high like this (most that I know stick to hedgerow height), but they were too far away and the light too poor to get a good view.  They could be a great rarity.  They could just be sparrows.  If anyone has any ideas, based on the  photo, please do let me know…

Unknown birds by the lake

Unknown birds by the lake

This is what makes birding interesting for me.  I have need yet to go dashing off to places to see a rare visitor (though I perfectly understand those that do, and I’m certainly not criticising them).  No, there are still plenty of birds within walking distance of my house yet to find and identify, and I can have the pleasure of discovery within my local patch.  It’s an advantage of starting at the bottom – I have so much more work to do!

(Should anyone want to check my progress or have a go themselves, here’s a copy of the British Bird List I found/stole on the internet.  Note that it goes up to 591, but it does include some rare birds.  Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, for instance, is only found in Bedfordshire, but it is secretive and there are only about three left.  And what on earth is a Brown-headed Cowbird?  Anyway, it’s the official list if you’re interested.)

British Bird List

*Edit – I think, after playing around with enlargements, the unknown birds may be Greenfinches.  But I may be wrong.  I’ve never seen a flock of Greenfinches before, but they seem to be the best fit.

Unknown Birds Enlargement

Mind you, I’ve been wrong so many times before…

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Goldfinches - adult on the left, juvenile on the right

Goldfinches - adult on the left, juvenile on the right

Just a quick note to say that my birdwatching efforts are progressing nicely.

Ever since we started putting out niger seeds for the birds last year, we’ve had a regular gang of Goldfinches visiting the garden.  They’re very good-looking birds, and they have an amazing capacity for sitting on the feeder and eating steadily for up to half an hour at a time.  Well, I’m pleased to say that we have some new additions to the Goldfinch flock.  This week we’ve had at least two juvenile Goldfinches coming to the feeder.

Blackcap?

Blackcap?

I’ve added two new species to my list.  The first caused me some difficulty.  I first heard its song, which was very striking, but the bird itself was perched on the top of a tall tree on a foggy day.  After much poring over photographs and field guides, I’m now pretty sure that it was a Blackcap.  If anyone knows differently, then please do let me know!  It won’t be the first time that I’ve been embarrassed by an obvious blunder…

I saw the second new bird on Sunday.   I take a walk early on Sunday mornings.  I usually take a flask of tea and stop for breakfast with my back to a small copse and look out over the fields.  On this Sunday I varied my routine, and sat inside the copse for a change.  It was quite remarkable how many small birds appeared after I had been sitting still for ten minutes or so. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good look at most of them, but one was unmistakable.  It was a smallish brown bird with a thin, longish beak.  It would fly to the bottom of a tree and then walk up the trunk, spiralling round it as it climbed.  It was a Treecreeper, no doubt about it.

Again, not especially rare birds, but I’m enjoying identifying them, particularly as they’re no more than half a mile from my house.  Who says you have to travel miles to tick off birds?

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It’s confession time again.

I’ve been guilty of occasional birdwatching for many years.  Nothing too serious – putting out food in the garden, listening to birdsong, watching the buzzards over the fields – the usual stuff.  I thought I could handle it.

But now I’ve crossed a line.  I’ve joined the hardcore of birdwatching.  I’ve become a twitcher.

There is something about birds that seems to affect men of my age (no 1970s sexist pun intended!), and we seem to get strangely obsessed by ticking them off lists.  There are people who take this to extremes, attempting to see every single bird species in the world (seriously), and many more that will travel across the UK to see a rarity that has been blown to these shores by freak winds or got badly lost while migrating.

I’m not in this category, but I have developed the list-ticking habit.  I’ve been looking at the birds in my local area, and idly wondering how many different species there are, and how many I’ve seen.  One thing led to another, and I downloaded the county bird list from the Bedfordshire Bird Club.  Birdwatchers keep many lists, so there are lists for each county as well as for the UK as a whole.  A bird that may be commonplace in one area may be a rarity in another, so there is a challenge to ticking off these county lists.

I’m not at the stage yet where I’m prepared to jump in the car and dash off to the other end of Bedfordshire to tick off a Siberian Lesser-Spotted Gronky Bird or some such rarity that has just arrived, but I am working my way through the list, ticking off the species as I see them in the course of my usual rambles.  As a very novice birdwatcher, the challenge for me is not so much spotting a rare bird, it’s identifying the common ones that are all around me.  There’s an awful lot of birds out there, and ticking off the list helps me to learn to recognise them, particularly the little brown ones that all look the same to me.

So how am I doing?  Well, I’m afraid I’m not going to have Bill Oddie knocking on my door any time soon.  There are 292 birds on the Bedfordshire county bird list.  So far, as the title of this post suggests, I’ve seen and positively identified 45 of them.  I have some way to go yet!

Dunnock

Dunnock in my garden

This is the 45th bird on my list – the Dunnock.  Not a great picture, but you get the idea.  The Dunnock is a small, brown bird that looks pretty much like a sparrow to the novice.  In fact, I’ve probably had them in the garden for years without noticing.  The defining features are the orange legs and the row of pale spots on the wings.  Dunnocks also tend to keep low, and they are happy to hop around the garden and flit from bush to bush.

You see, not only can I tick off number 45 on my list, but the list itself is encouraging me to learn more about my local birds.  Bird lists are good things!

Now, where was that Siberian Gronky Bird reported…

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I’ve been asked the question a few times when I’m wandering about the countryside.  It’s a reasonable conclusion for people to make.  The green jumper and binoculars must be a dead giveaway.  The truth is, I’m not really a birdwatcher.  I’ll watch anything, me – bird or beast.  It’s all part of getting to know my local area.

There are two chinese water deer in this picture. Can you spot them?

There are two chinese water deer in this picture. Can you spot them?

I went for my Sunday stroll this morning – not quite at dawn – I couldn’t get out of bed early enough.  Since the crops have grown up the Chinese Water Deer have taken to hiding in the middle of the fields, only their ears visible, like the periscope of a submarine.  CWD seem to prefer the middle of fields.  As a rule, if you see a small deer in a hedgerow it’s likely to be a muntjac; if it’s in the middle of the field it’s a CWD.

If the mammals were quiet today, then the birds were full of life.  It’s spring and they’re putting their heart and soul into defending territories and finding mates.  I spent an hour or so wandering around watching birds and listening to birdsong.  It seemed like every tree had it’s resident bird, sitting somewhere near the top and singing away for all they were worth.

Thrush

Thrush

Have you ever really listened to birdsong?  I’m mean really listened, not just been aware of it as background noise?  Here’s a challenge for everyone then.  Take a walk outside – in the countryside, in a wood or in a park – and listen to the different birds as you go.  Look at the trees and bushes they are calling from.  Find out how far they are away from each other.  Listen how they interact with each other.  I guarantee that if you pay attention then you’ll be amazed.

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

I’m trying to learn the songs of different birds at the moment, and it makes a real difference to get out and actually see the birds as they sing.  Today there were thrushes, robins, chaffinches, great tits, blue tits, a cuckoo (first one of the year for me) and – oddly – a peacock.  None of these are rare birds (the peacock was a bit unusual, I assume it was a pet in a garden), but being aware of them gave a whole new dimension to the walk.  I’d recommend it.

This morning was another first for me in birdwatching terms.  I saw a hawk being mobbed by crows.  I’ve heard of this happening but had never seen it before.  An aerial dogfight was played out before me, with the hawk and crows twisting and turning across the sky.  They were unfortunately too far away for me to identify the hawk, but impressive nonetheless.

So am I a birdwatcher?  Well, I can’t recognise many birds, and I don’t feel the urge to travel the country looking for rarities, but yes, I think I must be.

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