Friday, December 14, 2007


Assistant Editor Mike Weedon writes:
It was very cold here in Peterborough yesterday. Ferry Meadows CP was bathed in mist and outrageous frost, and I feared for the IWP 2007 judges (see below), driving from Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Hampshire, through the ice and fog of frozen England. During my cycle into work, I spent precisely one minute snapping some of it, but my fingers became too numb to press the button any more...
Canon PowerShot A640

Thursday, December 13, 2007

IWP 2007 judging

Today (13.12.07), we judged the International Wildbird Photographer of the Year 2007 competition.

The judging panel in our Peterborough offices were (left to right):

Chris Packham, TV star, photographer,
Mike Weedon, Assistant Editor of Bird Watching,
Chairman: Kevin Wilmot, Editor of Bird Watching,
Peter Partington, wildlife artist,
Angie Pickavance, Marketing and Creative Manager of Warehouse Express (co-owners of IWP),
Tom Bailey, award-winning landscape photographer,

IWP 2007 was entered by nearly 400 photographers from a record-breaking 34 countries, submitting more than 4,000 images!

Winners and runners-up were chosen from each of eight categories (Birds of the UK; Birds of the world; Birds in flight; Bird behaviour; Birds in the landscape: Best amateur; Best digiscoped image; Best portfolio. An overall winner of the the title of International Wildbird Photographer of the Year 2007 was also chosen.

Who won?

Read our February 2008 magazine (out January 30, 2008) and find out!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wagtail attack

Reader Brian Stone took this video of a Grey Wagtail, viciously attacking his car – see Brian's blog. The shameless vandalism took place today (29.11.07) at Newborough Fen, near Peterborough. The bird clearly had a problem with its own reflection.
Have you ever seen anything like this? Please let us know.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back on the patch

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
I had a few days off last week, so used them to try to fill in some of the gaps on my patch year list, with an almost total lack of success. Not that they weren’t enjoyable, though. In fact, the lack of ticks meant I spent nearly all my time looking very closely at the familiar and everyday.

I started on Wednesday at a flooded Wanlip Meadows, where there were good numbers of Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler. If forced to make a decision, they’d be my three favourite ducks, so it was good to sit there, with the air full of Wigeon whistles, watching them swimming in and out of the grass tussocks that line what would normally be the riverbank.

From there, it was off to Cossington Meadows (spotting a small flock of Goosander and a Sparrowhawk at Watermead Park on the way). Cossington was pretty flooded, too, so there were more of the same ducks, and a couple of Snipe, but little else. Oh, and at least 10,000 Starlings, even at 1pm in the afternoon. There was little of the spectacular formation flying going on, just a steady leap-frogging march as they fed across the grassy areas. Every now and then a little breakaway group of 500 or so would disappear for ten minutes, but numbers remained pretty constant, and the highlight was when the whole flock upped and moved a few hundred yards, passing overhead in a rush of wings.

Thursday, it rained. I dodged showers in the afternoon to sit in the hide at Kelham Bridge, watching the few ducks, Moorhens and Black-headed Gulls. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something large, long-winged and pale gliding towards the hide. Thinking it might be a Great Black-backed, I waited for it to emerge from behind bushes. Another split-second glimpse of a whitish underside had me thinking Barn Owl, and then it came into full view – a big, unmistakeable male Hen Harrier, quartering the reedbeds and grassy scrub with wings held in a typical shallow harrier V. I watched it until it disappeared behind the hide, then ran out to try to follow. Just as, eventually, it flew out of sight over a hill, I bumped into two workmen from Severn Trent Water.

“You didn’t just see a big, silver-grey bird of prey go past, did you?” I asked.

“Why, have you lost one?” was the deadly serious reply.

On a gloriously sunny Friday, I thought I’d see if I could find the bird again, either at Kelham or at nearby Sence Valley Forest Park. No luck, despite there being plenty of likely Hen Harrier (and Short-eared Owl) haunts, but there were good scope views of feeding Snipe, and Stonechats popping up on top of bushes and fenceposts. The latter are one of my favourite small birds, and looked superb in the late afternoon sun.

Saturday was a write-off, thanks to the weather, so Sunday I went off in search of the Long-eared Owls reported from Bagworth Heath Woods. A fair few birders had the same idea, and although we didn’t find a single owl, standing staring at their roost site for three hours did allow us to see plenty of Goldfinches and Siskins, and a Kestrel hunting until the light had almost gone. We were all in the first stages of hypothermia by the end of it, but the banter was good. I’m usually a solitary birder, so it was a nice reminder that once in a while, it’s great to share birding time with a lot of highly knowledgeable, generous-minded, funny fellow obsessives.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Weedon's World, May 2007

Each month in Bird Watching magazine, Assistant Editor Mike Weedon writes a monthly column called Weedon's World.

Here is May 2007 for unseasonal starters. Click on the 'image' for a readable-sized version. Enjoy. And please let us know what you think of it in the Comment section, below.

In case you don't know, Bird Watching magazine is easily Britain's highest-selling monthly bird magazine. It is available from WHSmith etc and of course you can subcribe by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:
Matt Merritt, Kevin Wilmot, Tom Bailey and I spent Monday (19.11.07) tyring out a different kind of bird race, which we will call a Mini-Sit. We spent exactly an hour in a theoretical 17-foot diameter circle, at each of three sites in the Peterborough area (all in Cambridgeshire), seeing how many species we could see and hear from each place. We chose the Nene way at Eldernell, east of Coates, a hide at Woodwalton Fen NNR and a high point at Ferry Meadows CP.
We were prelasantly surprised at the results, and you can read all about them in the January 2008 issue of Bird Watching
Some of the birds seen included Barn Owl and Stonechat at Eldernell...

Mike Weedon

Mike Weedon
...Teal in good numbers at Woodwalton Fen...

...and the inevitable Mallard at Ferry Meadows.

Mike Weedon
Boy did we struggle with Grey Herons, though, and we didn't record House Sparrow or Collared Dove at any of the sites!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Frosty morrning snaps

Grey Heron

What a beautiful bird the humble Moorhen is.

Lake reflected in a Coot.

Assistant Editor Mike Weedon writes:
I took advantage of some lovely frosty sunshine this morning and cycled my usual rouite in to work via Ferry Meadows (west Peterborough) with my DSLR strapped to my back. Here are some of the shots I took. Enjoy (and click them as usual for larger versions).
All photos were taken with a Canon Eos 30D with a 300f4 IS USM and 1.4x converter.
Don't worry, though, digiscoping fans, I use both technques in my day-to-day birdwatching, as there are benefits for both. Hopefully, we will be doing a feature on Digiscoping v DSLR (pros and cons) in early 2008 in Bird Watching magazine. Wath this space.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fieldfare digiscoping

Fieldfare, Tanholt pits, 10.11.07. Click on the photos for larger versions.

I digiscoped this Fieldfare in poor light at the weekend (10.11.07). I used a Canon PowerShot A640 handheld to a Kowa TSN-823 scope with a 32xW eyepiece. My only 'adapter' is a bit of crude plastic tubing to centre the lens.

Want to learn to digiscope birds using minimum fuss and no adapters?
Check this link
for our exclusive Digiscoping Made Easy DVD.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Optics testing

Scopes have become an essential part of the equipment of most birders nowadays, from the beginner to the expert, and one great benefit of the constant improvement in optical technology is that the smaller scopes (objective lenses of under 70mm) can often do a job that would once have been the preserve of the big boys.

They offer lightness and stowability, attractive to anyone whose birdwatching involves covering a lot of ground, on foot or by bike, or who simply doesn’t want to haul a heavier piece of equipment round all day.

For the November issue of Bird Watching, we tested six scopes from four manufacturers, covering a wide price range, and offer a guide to the performance of all. In the end, though, there’s no substitute for trying them out thoroughly yourself before you buy. Every birder’s preferences will be different, based on factors as diverse as the sort of birdwatching they do, their eyesight and physique, the scopes they’re used to, and of course their budget, and all the scopes in the test had plenty to commend them.

With that in mind, we offer a guide below to the features we looked at and that you should also test, and tips for buying.
For our test, we asked major manufacturers for up to two examples each of their 60-70mm objective lens scopes, plus a 30x (or equivalent) eyepiece. All were tested alongside each other at the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre, Rutland Water, on a single day in September. A resolution chart provided by Minox was used.

Here are the optical criteria we tested each of the scopes on – you should be looking at all these when buying. While optical quality is always likely to be a high priority, remember that you need to settle on a scope that is also easy and pleasurable to use.

FIELD OF VIEW: The wider the field, the easier you’ll find it to observe flocks of birds, or birds in flight. It is best tested by focusing on a man-made object, where the relative width of field of different scopes can be measured.

RESOLUTION: Focus each scope on the same object – a particular part of a bird, or a branch maybe – and look at the difference in detail. If at all possible, test this in low light and deep shade, to separate the very best from the rest of the field. We used a resolution chart, but placed particular emphasis on in-the-field testing.

BRIGHTNESS: All the scopes did well for brightness, impressive given their relatively small objective lenses. A smaller scope would suffer by comparison with a large one in poor light, but factors such as the type of glass used also make a big difference.

COLOUR CAST: This is not a fault – some models will have a slight blue or yellow tinge to the image. The former produces a brighter, cleaner image, with slightly reduced contrast, while the latter produces better contrast but slightly reduced colour.
COLOUR FRINGING: This is the appearance of a faint blue or yellow ‘halo’ around the object you are viewing. It is best tested by viewing an object against a pale background. All scopes are likely to suffer from it at least a little, especially towards the edge of images, but you only need to worry if it becomes distracting.

If you can, ask other birdwatchers if you can try their scopes, and take note of any features you like or dislike.
Before you go to buy, make a shortlist of models that you’re interested in, and give your dealer a call to check that they’re available.

Make sure the shop you buy from has good viewing facilities, so you can test the scopes yourself. Some retailers hold field days at reserves and birdwatching fairs.

Compare all the models on your shortlist thoroughly before trying any suggested by the shopkeeper.

If the shopkeeper gets too technical for you, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. If he is particularly enthusiastic about a certain model, remember that profit margins vary, and that it might be one that earns him more money.
Try to compare only two models at a time, three at most.

Take your time about comparing. Don’t be hurried (good retailers will be happy to give you as long as you need), and make notes as you compare – these will be invaluable if you decide to come back later after thinking things over.
Take all factors into account – a superb image is all very well, but the scope also needs to be one that you’re comfortable using.

Test the actual scope you’re buying before taking it home.

Check that the box carries an approved importers mark – buying a ‘grey’ import can cause problems if anything goes wrong.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hummer bathtime

Purple-collared Woodstars come down to bathe at the tiny pool connecting ponds at the lodge at Chaparri, northern Peru. (digiscoped video)

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Big Sit

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
A forthcoming feature in Bird Watching will look at what's known as The Big Sit - that's when you position yourself in a hide, and sit and wait, and sit, and sit, and sit some more, and see which birds venture into view. To make it a bit more interesting, you only list those that venture to within, say, 15 metres of your position.
Now I'm one of those patch birders who tends to dash round as many local birding sites as possible, seeing if anything interesting is around, and moving on quickly if it's not. In my defence, it's mainly down to time constraints. Once the evenings are shorter, in particular, my available birding hours are severely restricted, so I tell myself it's necessary.
Then there's the fact that I like walking a lot. So much so, in fact, that when I got deeply into birding again eight or nine years ago (rekindling a childhood obsession), it was mainly because I was doing a lot of walking and started taking bins along to enliven the boring bits.
But anyway, yesterday I went down to one of my local nature reserves, settled into the furthest hide, and tried this Big Sit lark. Only for an hour (our intrepid feature-writers will be doing ten), and using an area of roughly 20m radius from the hide, which has visibility on three sides.
I'll be honest - I was astonished at just how many birds I saw, and their sheer variety. Coot, Mute Swan, Moorhen (18 of them), Little Grebe, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Chaffinch, Mallard, Carrion Crow, Wigeon, Gadwall, Woodpigeon, Jay, Starling, Stock Dove, Feral Pigeon, Sand Martin and Goldfinch. Assuming you can count flyovers (and I have done where the Sand Martin is concerned), there were also three Buzzards, two adults and an immature. They played their part by startling the Jay into the open briefly.
It's all made me think about how I do my birding. For one thing, it encourages you to spend much more time observing the behaviour of common species, and that's always fascinating. The way the Moorhens, in particular, went about their business was entertaining and intriguing. And there's more time and comfort for picking out ID details - I methodically separated the female ducks, usually something of a blind spot for me.
It also made me think about what I didn't see. No Reed Buntings, at a site usually full of them. Victims of the wet summer, or just moved to a different spot? No Wrens, even though a family were nesting IN the hide a couple of months back.
I'll keep doing it. Maybe just once a month, because I know the urge to march around all my local sites will strike soon, but definitely on a regular basis.
Had the hide had visibility on all four sides, I could have added Kestrel to the list, because as I emerged, a pair were sat on fenceposts near the path. They took a slow look at me, then lifted off into the air, no doubt to the consternation of the local voles.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Camargue 2008: Feb 16-22 & 22-28,

Readers’ Holiday
Southern France in winter
February 16-22 & 22-28, 2008
Further information: Call Hugh Harrop of Shetland Wildlife on 01950 422 483, e-mail or visit

The beautiful region of Provence is a superb destination for a midwinter birdwatching holiday. Wintering Wallcreepers, Alpine Accentors, Eagle Owls and Citril Finches in Les Alpilles, raptors and wildfowl in their thousands in the Camargue, and Little Bustards, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Calandra Larks on the Crau Plain. A superb short winter break for Bird Watching readers, and just a couple of hours flying time from home.

Look what this Bird Watching break offers.
• Six nights in the foothills of the beautiful Les Alpilles region.
• Visit the beautiful citadel of Les Beaux to see Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, Crag Martin, Sardinian Warbler, Crested Tit and Firecrest.
•Search known sites for Eagle Owls at dusk.
• Explore the wetlands of the Camargue, where thousands of waterfowl winter and herons and egrets occur. Reedbeds hold Bearded Tits, Cetti’s and Moustached Warblers and Bittern.
• Raptors include Spotted, Booted, White-tailed and Bonelli’s Eagles, Merlin, Peregrine, Marsh and Hen Harriers and Egyptian Vulture at various sites.
• Visit La Crau to see Pin-tailed Sandgrouse along with Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Southern Grey Shrikes, Dartford Warblers, Stonechat, Cirl and Rock Buntings, Calandra Larks and Richard’s Pipits.
• Look for Citril Finch, hundreds of wintering Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Bramblings, Crossbills, Nuthatches, Marsh and Crested Tits, and maybe Black Woodpecker in the high forests of Mount Ventoux. Golden Eagle and Goshawk may be seen here.

Your holiday programme:
Price: £795 per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single supplement: £75. Deposit: £200. Includes: return schedule flights London Gatwick/Marseilles; six nights accommodation, all meals from dinner on day one to breakfast on day seven; transportation within France; entrance fees; local taxes; gratuities and services of professional guides.

Information: Call Hugh Harrop of Shetland Wildlife on 01950 422 483, e-mail or visit

To book: These trips are extremely popular, so we suggest you call or e-mail to check availability. If booking by telephone please state this is a Bird Watching magazine holiday.

Norfolk: July 3-6, 2008

Bird Watching Readers’ Break
This Bird Watching break is being arranged by Celtic Bird Tours. For further details, or to book a place call Neil Donaghy, on 01656 645 709 or 07971 983 227.

Norfolk: July 3-6, 2008
Rich in habitats and home to some of our rarest breeding birds, Norfolk is the ‘premier’ birdwatching county, with a wealth of species unlikely to be matched elsewhere in the UK. The breeding season will be in full swing and we may also encounter some scarce late migrants. A flexible itinerary will take account of tide times and weather conditions to ensure four days of excellent birding.

Look what this Bird Watching break offers:
• Look for summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks, Avocets and Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Snipe, Wood Sandpiper,Whimbrel, Little Stint, and Dunlin among wildfowl and waders.
• Montagu’s Harriers may be seen with local Marsh Harriers. Other raptors include Honey Buzzard, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk.
• Look for Bearded Tits, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Little Owl, Turtle Dove, Bullfinch and Tree Sparrow.
• Garganey, Spoonbill and Little Egret are possible, plus Black Tern, Little Gull, Common, Little and Sandwich Terns. Seawatching may produce Gannet, Common Scoter and Eider.
• Visit the Brecklands, where Golden Oriole, Hobby, Spotted Flycatcher, Garganey, Yellow and Grey Wagtail , Stone Curlew, Wood Lark, Crossbill, Hawfinch, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit and Firecrest occur.


Day 1: Arrive at hotel 1pm. Visit Kelling Water Meadows and Salthouse.
Day 2: Harrier watchpoint plus RSPB Titchwell for migrants, wildfowl, waders, gulls and terns.
Day 3: Visit Brecklands, Weeting Heath and Lynford Arboretum. Evening Nightjar walk.
Day 4: The Wensum Valley Raptor Watchpoint and Cley NNT. Return to hotel mid-afternoon, where tour ends.
Hotel: The Pheasant Hotel at Kelling.
Group size: Ten plus leaders. NB: This tour involves early morning start and late evening finish.
Price: £399. Single supplement £30. Deposit £50. Includes three nights dinner, bed and breakfast, packed lunches, en-suite accommodation, transport in Norfolk, service of expert leaders and reserve entrance fees. Not included: travel insurance, drinks and personal items.

Morocco 2008: February 17-27

Bird Watching Readers’ Break
Morocco: February 17-27, 2008
This Bird Watching break is being arranged by Celtic Bird Tours. For further details, or to book a place call Neil Donaghy, on 01656 645 709 or 07971 983 227.

This North African tour will visit the desert, mountains, wetlands and coast at the start of spring migration in Morocco. This exciting destination has special birds found only in the south of the Western Palearctic among the richly varied habitats – including the immense Atlas Mountains – which we shall visit.

Look what the Bird Watching holiday offers:
• Special species such as Bald Ibis, Cream-coloured Courser, Moussier’s Redstart, Black-crowned Tchagra, Thick-billed Lark, Black-shouldered Kite, Tawny Eagle and Southern Grey Shrike.
• Visit the Sahara Desert for Lanner and Barbary Falcon, Eagle Owl, Fulvous Babbler, Hoopoe Lark, African Desert Warbler and Desert Sparrow.
• Sousa Massa National Park is important for endangered Bald Ibis and many herons, egrets, Marbled Duck, Glossy Ibis, Ruddy Shelduck and perhaps Tawny Eagle.
• The ‘hammada’ or stony desert is the place to see Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Thick-billed, Desert and Temminck’s Horned Larks, Red-rumped and Desert Wheatears, Trumpeter Finch, Long-legged Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, and possibly Tristram’s Warbler and Mourning Wheatear.
• Birding in the Atlas Mountains, where Barbary Partridge, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Blue Rock Thrush, Crimson-winged Finch, Red-billed and Alpine Chough and Golden Eagle occur.
• Other special birds include Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Wryneck, Nightingale, Egyptian Nightjar, Houbara Bustard, Booted, Short-toed, Bonelli’s and Golden Eagle, Black Kite and Lesser Kestrel. Expect to see 175 species.

Day 1: Fly London/Agadir. Transfer to hotel.
Day 2: Birding the Atlantic coast, Sous Massa NP and Oued Sous.
Day 3: Drive from Agadir to Taroudant through the bird-rich Sous Valley.
Day 4-5: Drive to Boulmane Dades across the ‘hammada’. Visit the Tagdilt Track, famous for special species.
Day 6-7: From Boumane to Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara. Birding the wadi’s and oases.
Day 8: Roadside birding en route to Ouarzazate will produce migrants and lots of wheatears.
Day 9-10: From Ouarzazate through the High Atlas Mountains to a watchpoint for migrants and raptors. Arrive Marrakech and spend day exploring valleys and mountains.
Day 11: Visit city of Marrakech before return flight to London.
Leaders: Josele Saiz and Neil Donaghy.
Group size: 11 plus leaders. NB: Tour includes early starts and late finishes and some walking at altitude.
Price: £1,399. Single supplement £150. Deposit: £350. Includes: Flights London/Agadir/Marrakech/London. Transport in Morocco, all meals except lunch on first and last days. Service of expert guides and entrance fees. Not included: travel insurance, drinks, personal items, local drivers’ gratuities.

Cornwall, October 13-19, 2007

Bird Watching Readers’ Break
This Bird Watching break is being arranged by Celtic Bird Tours. For further details, or to book a place call Neil Donaghy, on 01656 645 709 or 07971 983 227.

Cornwall, October 13-19, 2007
A few places are left on this holiday based at Marazion. It will visit the valleys and headlands where rare and uncommon migrants regularly occur at this time of year. Please call Neil Donaghy on the number below if you would like to join the group.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Night-time surprise

Kevin Wilmot writes...

A very interesting thing happened at 4.15 this morning.

I was woken by the sound of two seemingly distressed Carrion Crows in the narrow treebelt behind my small suburban garden. It was if they, too, had been suddenly and unexpectedly roused from their slumbers. I didn't have to wait long for the culprit to reveal itself, as seconds later came several 'kewicks' and hoots of one, or possibly more, Tawny Owls.

I can only assume that the owls had inadvertantly come across the roosting crows as they went about their night-time hunt. I wouldn't imagine they would purposely attack the crows as, size for size, crows are somewhat larger. Who knows, but it certainly made for an fascinating 20 minutes or so before all was quiet once again in the slowly gathering light of dawn.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Reader holiday, Oct 12-14, 2007

Northumberland, October 12-14, 2007
For further information or to book on the holiday, contact Nick Mason, Tel: 07857 200 144.

Join us for a brilliant weekend’s birdwatching, loads of fun and superb company amid the spectacular and dramatic landscape of the Northumberland coast. With everything from scarce grebes to waders, seabirds to Twite, our weekend’s exploration of a wide variety coastal habitats promises to be a real treat.
The spectacular and dramatic landscape of the Northumberland coast, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is the venue for this Bird Watching weekend break. In the company of expert guides we will visit the best autumn birdwatching sites where thousands of birds will be using the coast as a staging post during migration or as a winter home.
Our hotel, on the harbour at Seahouses with views of the Farne Islands, is the perfect base for exploration of the coastal habitats which vary from grazing marsh, reedbeds and off-shore islands. The weekend will also provide a taste of the rich history and heritage of this amazing coast.

Friday night
Join the leaders for a pre-dinner welcome presentation at 6.30pm.

We’ll drive south to visit four nature reserves in Druridge Bay – Hauxley, East Chevington, Druridge Pools and Cresswell Pond. The varied habitats include brackish lagoons, freshwater ponds, reedbeds and foreshore. Birds could include vagrant passerines, waders, terns and seabirds. Anything could turn up but likely species are Pink-footed Geese, Whooper Swan, Pintail, Gadwall, Merlin and Twite. The day will end with dinner and a guest presentation about bird conservation on the Northumberland Coast.

Gadwall by Mike Weedon

Heading north we will explore the wild landscape of Holy Island and Lindisfarne NNR, famous for wintering Brent Geese, but expect a ‘cracking’ day with Red-throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Bar-tailed Godwit, Peregrine and passerines such as Tree Sparrows. The day will end on the foreshore below Bamburgh Castle, looking for Purple Sandpiper, seaducks and divers. Return to holiday at 5pm when holiday ends.

Bar-tailed Godwit by Mike Weedon

Hotel: Bamburgh Castle Hotel situated on the harbour at Seahouses offers excellent food and en suite accommodation – and wonderful sea views.

Leaders: Tom Cadwallender is an ornithologist, BTO representative for Northumberland and the author of Birdwatching on the Northumberland Coast. Nick Mason was RSPB conservation manager for the north of England. He left last year to become proprietor of RealBirder Tours.

Price: £270 per person includes, two-nights’accommodation, all meals, picnics, reception, transport and the service of expert leaders. It does not include insurance, drinks and personal items. Sunday night stopover: dinner, bed and breakfast £70 per person.

Travel: Road: via A1 and B1340. Rail: nearest station is Alnmouth. Transfers may be possible to and from station on Friday and Sunday evening. Please let Nick Mason know if you plan to use the train.

For further information or to book on the holiday, contact Nick Mason, Tel: 07857 200 144.

The Full Monty

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
Yesterday was one of those days when working for Bird Watching is sheer, unadulterated pleasure (not that every day in the office isn't a delight, of course!). Mike Weedon and myself ventured out into the flatlands of Lincolnshire, to see the Montagu's Harriers that have been breeding on Digby Fen. At times, reading about birds isn't enough and you just have to get out and see what all the fuss is about.
These are the rarest breeding birds of prey in Britain, being summer visitors who generally prefer the warmer parts of Europe. Climate change might alter things, but currently less than a dozen pairs each year nest, usually in southern England and East Anglia. That makes it all the more remarkable that this pair managed to successfully raise four young in the middle of a rain-lashed fenland farmer's field, with the help, of course, of RSPB protection.
We arrived to find the RSPB watchpoint already busy, and we didn't have to wait long to see one of the juveniles, looking for worms in a ploughed field on the far side of the road from the nest. What struck you immediately was how orange the breast was - field guides say rufous, but this positively glowed. As we watched him, too, a male Marsh Harrier swept past, providing a useful size comparison. Ultra-rare themselves 20 or so years ago, they're now making slow but steady progress.
A flypast from a Heron stirred things into life on the far side of the road, near the nest. At least two Montys rose to challenge it, and the Heron responded by sticking its neck out and honking "frank, frank" at them. From then on, we had regular good views of the female Monty and some of the juves (spoilt slightly by the heat haze - never happy, are we?!). And finally, in came the male, passing over the nest site and dropping a small prey item to be caught by a waiting juvenile - however many times you hear this little trick being described, it's hard to believe how casually elegant it all is until you see it. Having made his delivery, the male then darted aerobatically after a Skylark (which got away easily enough), then disappeared.
After the inevitable immense fry-up, we pushed our luck by looking for the Black Kite at Nocton Fen, just down the road. But, no matter how much we willed the resident Buzzards to become longer, slighter and generally more kite-like, we were unsuccessful. You can't have everything, but we did meet a couple of like-minded Bird Watching readers, so hopefully they had better luck once we headed back down the A15.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reader holiday, Gibraltar Point, Sept 14-6, 2007

Gibraltar Point Autumn Migration Weekend
September 14-16, 2007

Places are still available for the exciting Bird Watching weekend break at this migration hotspot. Why not join us to see the arrival of the first winter visitors – anything could turn up..
This break is based at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Gibraltar Point NNR where we will explore habitats ranging from freshwater lagoons, salt-marsh, sand dunes, mudflats, shrubs and trees. Seawatching may produce divers, grebes and other interesting birds.
The leaders are Bob and Ann Scott and accommodation will be in the Wash Study Centre.
Price: £165 per person.

For futher details or to book a place call
Carol Debney, tel: 01733 468 224.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Images of Glen Affric


Bird Watching Magazine's illustrator Steve Hall has just come back from five days visiting Glen Affric, Highland, (see Go Birding, in the July 2002 issue of Bird Watching ). He says the birds were abundant and very tame and the place was superb. Here are one or two of his shots.

All images by Steve Hall

For the record

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
It's been difficult to get out birding over the last few weeks - the moment I get my gear together and head for my usual haunts, the heavens open and there's a mini-monsoon. So, Sunday was a good chance to make up for lost time, and I hurtled around my patch while the going was good. OK, so there's a LOT more water on the ground than usual, but even that can have its advantages.
Just as it was getting towards dusk, I arrived back at Sence Valley Forest Park for a last look. All the regulars were on the main lakes (good views of Common Terns, and a Water Rail squealing somewhere in the reeds), but I headed towards a smaller pool just off the bridlepath. It's on the edge of a farmer's field, which is often used by sheep, and their constant trampling has left some good muddy patches at the water's edge. In the past, it's been a good place to see Yellow Wagtails, plus the odd wader. Usually Little Ringed Plovers, or Curlews in spring, but about three years ago it did attract a very confiding Pectoral Sandpiper.
Anyway, as I walked towards it (I was still about 300 yards away), I saw a largish wader fly in and land on the edge of the water, close to countless sheep. At first I was thinking Curlew, but I needed to get closer, because of a hedge partly obscuring the view. In the end, I was able to approach to maybe 150 yards. A quick look with the bins aroused my suspicions, and once the scope was on it, I was sure. A Whimbrel. The smaller size (than a Curlew) wasn't immediately apparent, there being no other birds nearby to provide scale, but the very distinct eye stripes made me certain. I watched it for 20-odd minutes, during which it seemed rather agitated by the sheep, scuttling around here and there in a rather un-Whimbrel-like manner.

Mike Weedon
I made the mistake of walking on a little way to the stream, to see if there were any others around, but by the time I came back it had gone. I didn't see or hear it fly away, but perhaps it went to roost near the far lake, before continuing its migration in the morning.
One thing this sighting did, though, was confirm for me once again the value of sending bird records to a county recorder. July 22nd seemed a bit early for Whimbrel to me, but back at home, I checked back through the last few Leicestershire and Derbyshire Annual reports, and found that the species usually passes through Leicestershire starting in this week in July, having arrived in Derbyshire a little earlier, if anything.
So, although debate has raged about it in the letters pages of Bird Watching over the last few months, I'm firmly in favour of sending in those records. It's not just that they help identify all sorts of national and regional population trends - they also help individual birdwatchers put their subsequent sightings in an invaluable context.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Vortex Viper

In the July 2007 issue of Bird Watching, we featured a survey of mid-priced 8x42 binoculars. One pair we inclued in the survey was the Vortex Viper. However, we accidentally included images of the Viking GR8x45 in place of those of the Viper.

The conclusions of the test and the marks given were exactly the same as published, only the photographs were wrong.

This is what the Vortex Viper really looks like.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bempton teaser

The August issue of Bird Watching Magazine will feature an article by Mike Weedon on digiscoping seabirds at RSPB Bempton. Here are a few of his shots to whet your appetite (click an image for a larger version).

Razorbill by Mike Weedon

Guillemot by Mike Weedon

Gannets by Mike Weedon

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Under pressure

Kevin Wilmot writes:

"Oh I'd love to see a Red Kite! Find me a Red Kite please Kevin!"

The plea came as I embarked my first ever guided bird walk. Okay so it wasn't exactly over-challenging, with two lovely ladies from the local church taking up my offer of a Sunday afternoon stroll through Old Sulehay Forest near Peterborough. Two might not sound very many, but believe me that was enough to start off with thank you very much!

Red Kite by Mike Weedon

The spot-the-Sky-Lark competition on the way from the village hall to the wood was won by Bella, while a Yellowhammer brightened up the hedgerow before all went quiet as we entered the wood.

"Come on Kevin, we're relying on you!" said Bella in the silence. No pressure then.

Well, thankfully things did start to happen, with Blackcaps and Willow Warblers singing and a Treecreeper among the flock of Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits. Two pairs of Dabchicks on the flooded quarry added interest, but no Red Kites to really cement my growing reputation (to Chris and Bella anyway!) as a 'proper' guide.

To be honest, I was enjoying myself. Chris and Bella were delighted to be shown the difference between Chiff Chaff and Willow Warbler, a female Linnet posed a very brief ID challenge, and the many Green Woodpeckers this wood holds were in fine voice.

Things really took an upwards turn when I caught the distinctive 'purr' of a Turtle Dove - two actually, showing well, if distant, on some telegraph wires running along the wood edge.

But still no Red Kite. Had I 'failed'? Well no, actually. We had almost made it back to the village hall for tea and cakes when Bella suddenly looked skywards. "I don't think it's a crow," she said as a perfect Red Kite drifted across the houses. What's more, it was holding something in its talons which it dropped and proceeded to catch with an impressive swoop. Two mewing Buzzards enjoying the summer thermals rounded off a pleasant couple of hours.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

After the rain

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
Various factors, but mainly the constant rain, have conspired against me in recent weeks to reduce my birdwatching to a minimum. So, last night, with the skies finally clear for a couple of hours, I thought it was time to get back out there.
I made my way down to a local nature reserve where Barn Owls have bred regularly in recent years, hoping that the break in the weather might have encouraged them to get out and hunt. As I arrived at the former sewage works, though, there were only plenty of Swallows and Sand Martins to be seen, plus an encouraging number of Reed Buntings and Whitethroats, with the small birds seemingly as glad as me that the weather had taken a turn for the better.
Surprise number one came as I walked past the little pools, screened by earth banks, towards the second hide. The twittering of the hirundines suddenly reached a crescendo, and as I turned to look, a Hobby appeared from behind the bank, sweeping round in a wide circle before disappearing behind a treeline. Even before I had time to take in the Swift-like shape, the red 'trousers' were noticeable in the late sunshine.
Delighted, I made my way into the hide, and opened the first flap. There, less than 50 yards away, perched in a low bush, was a raptor-like silhouette, which took on a bluish tone as I looked closer. Merlin? Surely not at this time of year. A slightly small Sparrowhawk or Hobby? The bins soon resolved things - a Cuckoo, completely unperturbed by my presence. Even as I rather noisily opened my scope's tripod, it only shifted position by a few feet. I've seen plenty of Cuckoos in flight, but never so close, for so long, and perched.
After I left the hide I saw it and what was presumably its mate again, but as things got unseasonably cold and the light failed, I started to make my way home. Then, there it was, flying directly towards me, with a hapless vole in its dangling talons. I held still, waited, and only when it was around 15 yards away did the Barn Owl suddenly seem to spot me, screeching loudly and veering away sharply, before coming round in a wide circle towards its nest-box.
It would have been hard to imagine a more rewarding hour's birding, a reminder that the period just after a spell of bad weather can be among the most productive times to go looking.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More cricket

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
Saturday's cricket was surprisingly productive in terms of birdwatching, even if we did capitulate in a manner reminiscent of the current West Indies side.
We were at a ground in Wilford, Nottingham, close to the river, and with allotments, a disused railway line and wasteground nearby. While we were fielding, the highlights were a fine pair of Mistle Thrushes who repeatedly perched on an old roller down at third man, and a Whitethroat singing from the low hedge on the shortest boundary. Plenty of Swallows, too, putting to rest my fears of last week.
Then, while standing at the non-striker's end, bat in hand, what should fly directly overhead but a Common Tern, complete with fish in bill. And just to prove that was no fluke, it made several return trips. I'd guess it might be nesting at Attenborough, but had discovered a rich source of food nearer to Trent Bridge.
What was good about all these birds was that, of the grounds we've played at so far this year, it looked the least promising, in terms of being surrounded by a heavily built-up area. It just goes to show that great birding isn't always about beauty spots and nature reserves. In July's Bird Watching, we'll be looking in-depth at the less obvious birding sites - don't miss it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Following the Oregon trail

US birder John E Riutta (he hails from Oregon) emailed us this week to say that he is a keen reader of the magazine, which he regularly writes about on his excellent blog, Born Again Bird Watcher. Have a look yourself, to get a transatlantic view of British birding, as well as all sorts of interesting material on birds generally.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cricket update

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
The cricketing bird list is coming along slowly but steadily, both helped and hindered by the rainy May we've been having. A week last Saturday, we only managed 20 overs at Thrumpton. The bonus was that it's just across the River Trent from Attenborough Nature Centre, and sure enough, while we were sat around wondering whether the showers would ease up for long enough to get finished, two Buzzards came over. They returned a little later, once the sun was out again, spiralling over the umpires as they tried to make a decision on whether to abandon the game and head for the pub (they did). There were two Grey Herons as well, plus loads of Jackdaws and Swifts.
Last weekend, at home to Caythorpe, there were plenty of House Martins, plus Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the wooded part of the pit bank down one side of the ground. That took the total so far to 16, and a nice bonus was that a pair of Starlings have decided to build their nest in the roof of our pavilion.
The one disappointment so far has been the lack of Swallows - there's no shortage of them over the water at any one of a half-dozen local reservoirs and lakes, but so far they've stayed away from the cricket. In the past, they've often skimmed ultra-low over the outfield.
Still, no ducks either so far, for which I'm grateful.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Night activities

Assitant editor Mike Weedon writes:

As your copy of the latest Bird Watching magazine flops through the letterbox, and you eagerly rip it open, you will notice that I have written a feature on birds at night. If your copy hasn't arrived yet, it will, and if you don't subscribe then you should by going here and follow the links. Or you could just buy it in the shops from May 30 (WH Smith is recommended).
In the feature, I discuss the activities of birds during the hours of darkness and add a few tips. Last night (May 22, 2007), I tried a bit of night-birding myself. I had a pass from my wife to stay out late and my aim was to find a Quail. I didn't want to see one (which is near impossible) but to hear one singing.
I left home in the evening and headed down to my favourite Peterborian wader hotspot, Maxey pits. A rather runty, new-in Sanderling was the best bird on offer, but the night was still, superb and warm with a lovely atmosphere building and the air becoming jammed with millions of tiny mayflies.
At about 9.15pm, I left the site and headed slightly north for the fields around Baston and Langtoft pits (south Lincolnshire) and the road to Baston Fen. There are plenty of fields with crops and grass across these flat former fenlands. So, my tactic was to drive along a bit, find a field with a crop, then stop with the windows open, turn the engine off then listen for a minute or two before moving on another 400m or so.
The first few stops produced nothing. But as I turned toward Baston Fen, a lump on a wire angled down from a telegraph pole beside the road was unmistakable. It was a Tawny Owl, less than 10m from me. With the engine off, I quietly raised my bins and gloried in the beauty of this magnificent bird. It was staring down at a ditch, but I rudely made a tiny sqeak and it instantly rotated its head to stare right at me.
After several minutes during which it seemed to be completely unbothered by my presence, the owl flew across to my side of the road and perched on the wires above my car.
I drove on and 700m further down parked again. Surely that was the sound of a distant Quail? I got out of the car and strained to hear into the distance. No further sound, apart from Red-legged Partridges, but there was another Tawny Owl, perched as the previous bird out on a telelgraph wire over the road.

Red-legged Partridge by Mike Weedon

Another 100m on I parked and listened again, and there it was, the unmistakable 'wet-my-lips' of a Quail. Superb: my target bird achieved with minimal effort, plus brilliant Tawny Owl views thrown in.
Quails (I prefer the 's' plural) are out there somewhere. But generally you have to be out and about at odd owling hours to hear them for yourself. Go for it.

Testing time

Production Editor Matt Merritt writes:
I spent yesterday at a gloriously sunny Rutland Water Nature Reserve with David Chandler, testing 12 of the best 8x42 binoculars available in the £200-£400 price range. We were both amazed at just how much binocular it's possible to get at an affordable price nowadays, but if you want the full lowdown on the bins from Bushnell, Kowa, Minox, Nikon, Pentax, Pyser-SGI, RSPB, Steiner and others, make sure you buy the July edition of Bird Watching.
Strange as it might seem, testing days are not always great for actually watching birds, because you get so caught up in the technical aspects of the kit, but we did see a lone Tree Sparrow, and marvel at the sheer range of Sedge Warbler songs. And, on the way home, I couldn't resist stopping briefly at Manton bridge to watch one of the breeding Ospreys tucking into dinner.

Welsh Osprey success

The third and final Osprey chick has successfully hatched at the Glaslyn site, in Wales (emerging on May 20). The birds can be viewed from Pont Croesor near Porthmadog (10am-6pm). Over May 26-28, 2007, there will be a special community weekend there with plenty of activities, stalls and events. For a fuller story see here

New Big Sit record for Cambs pioneers

Turtle Dove, by Mike Weedon

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of their first Big Sit – possibly the first following American rules in this country – Allistair Berry and Peter Wilkinson smashed their previous record at the weekend (May 19, 2007). The pair returned to the tower hide at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire and scored a mighty 72 species during their 12.5 hour vigil. Ten years ago they recorded only 62 species at the same site (and their previous best was 67), following rules that restrict your movements to a 17-foot circle, as a 'greener' alternative to motorised bird races in a format only an American could conceive...
Birds recorded by the pair included Cetti's Warbler, Turtle Dove, Marsh Harrier, Mandarin, Little Egret, Avocet and Red Kite.

For more on Cambridgeshire birding, see Cambridgeshire Bird Club
For more on US-style Big Sits, see here

Weedon's World, April 2007

American Robin by Mike Weedon, Bingley, 4.2.07.

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:

Each month, I shame-facedly explain how I’m not a twitcher, before going on to tell a tale of unashamed twitching. This month I received my punishment. Though, as I frequently say, my local patch is my real birding obsession, when a Pacific Diver turned up in Yorkshire I got the twitching bug big-time. It was one UK first I really did not want to miss.

So, I foolishly masked a bit of flu I was nurturing since Friday, February 2nd and took the back seat of my friend’s the Bowells’ Mondeo heading north on Sunday 4th. OK, I’d been sweating out a raging fever all night, but I had to pretend to be at least half well or else I would miss the once-in-a-lifetime lift to see this unique loon.

The pretence lasted a few hundred metres, though, and safely ensconced on the journey north, I confessed to feeling as rough as a Badger.

Yorkshire was holding two birds of special note, the diver and an American Robin. A decision was made to try for the robin first, as the light was apparently dreadful at the loon site until the afternoon. But Will’s pager was silent with no news of either. The drive continued, and the sweat was beading on my brow. Not only was I feeling even iller by the mile, but I was also going to dip on both birds – a double-dip from Hell.

Then the pager beeped with the news that there was no news either way regarding the Pacific Diver. What does that mean? Maybe 500 birders were already there, scouring every drop of water; surely one of them knew whether it was there or not.

Then, a brief moment of bliss came with the news that the diver had been re-found. We were certainly going to see it! Hurrah! This was soon followed by news that the robin was ‘showing well’. I was almost cheerful through my delirium.

We were deep within Yorkshire now, heading for Bradford, and I was confident that two great ticks were coming my way.
The pager beeped. I thought it was an illness-induced nightmare, but the words were true enough. The Pacific Diver had risen high off the water, circled and risen some more before heading north, never to be seen again. After at least three weeks on the site, and less than a week in the open, at the worst possible time for the thousands of the nation’s Sunday twitchers, the loon had gone.

We pressed on for Bingley. Somehow, though, the combination of flu, the news of the diver’s departure, the large crowds and the fact that I’d seen loads of American Robins before (in America), took most of the thrill from seeing the pretty thrush.

It should have been a happy time, but my gloom increased when the robin was relocated. It nervously came down from a tree and started nibbling around in the frozen ground for worms, slowly edging its way to some frosty apples kindly put out for it the day before.

American Robin by Mike Weedon, Bingley, 4.2.07.

Aha, we thought, all it has to do is edge a few metres to the right, out of the way of the bramble and it will be in glorious digiscoping range. No sooner had the thought excited my brain, than a small mob of DSLR-wielders, equipped with their new Christmas lenses came blundering in far too close for the robin’s comfort. They were shaking trees and encroaching so close the bird froze, startled, then flew off into nearby gardens, not to show again for another two hours.

I blame these people for making me stay out in the cold, freeze my bins off and cause me to be ill in bed for the next week.

Don’t go twitching, it just makes you ill..

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Butterflies show climate change

Comma by Mike Weedon, photographed 13.3.07
A report in today's The Independent discusses the findings of Butterfly Conservation, which have shown that 11 species of butterfly broke their earliest-emergence records this year. This is nearly a fifth of all our regular species. Some species, including the Green Hairstreak, Chalkhill Blue and Lulworth Skipper showed as adults a month and a half early this year. Southern Britain's spring was effectively a month early.

Green Hairstreak by Mike Weedon, photographed 19.4.07

Planning reforms could bring doom

The new Planning White Paper could open the way to destruction of threatened wildlife areas, by weakening planning restrictions. For example, long-term readers of Bird Watching will remember John Gooders' repeated concerns, in his column, about the threat of a developed Lydd Airport to the Dungeness area. Now, the RSPB are seeing this as a very real danger.
For more on the RSPB's stance, see here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Wembley Wheatear

Robben and Wheatear share Wembley turf
(click the pics to see them bigger)

Wes Brown and Arjen Robben 'have a chat'...

Robben gets attention while the Wheatear hops toward the United penalty area

Widely acknowledged as the worst FA Cup final since the competition returned to Wembley, the 2007 clash between Chelsea and Manchester United on Saturday did feature one incident to wake up eagle-eyed birdwatchers. In the 67th minute while (to the delight of all non-Chelsea supporters) Wes Brown flattened Chelsea's Arjen Robben, a female Wheatear was seen hopping by!
Despite claims by Mark Lawrenson that the grass was too long on the brand new pitch, it was clearly just the right length to draw down the migrant chat. However, as it tried to avoid the unsavoury incident on the touchline, its ungainly flapping did hint at an injury possibly worse than that sustained by the Dutch flyer. Perhaps, that is unsurprising with the play (though at pedestrian pace almost throughout) covering most blades of grass.
Chelsea took the glory of a 1-0 victory after extra time, but what with the players' repeated diving celebrations, laps of honour and minor pitch invasions by the Chelsea extended family and TV crews, it is uncertain whether the Wheatear survived the ordeal.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Still twitching... we're (in)famous

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:

Bird Watching's website has reached the business pages of The Daily Telegraph in the comment column of Damian Reece (click on the link to read all).

Hardly the most complimentary web-review I've ever read, it is nonetheless complete with an hilarious and dazzlingly original reference to 'breasts', referring of course to the Robin on the cover of our May issue. More surprising is a later reference to a 'stint', but perhaps they really do have a bird-loving sub...

We are still awaiting the next stage of our website development.

Meantime, if you want to see how the other half blog, and in the absence of a blog by Damian Reece (as far as I can see), try reading the blog of Ben Verwaayen, hosted by the very same Daily Telegraph that gives Mr Verwaayen such a massive big-up and plug in Reece's column, today...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

WIlson's revisited

Wilson's Phalarope (plus Greenshank), High Wash, Whittlesey, Cambs, 10.5.07 (digiscope), by Mike Weedon

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:

Soon after I posted the video below, I got a phone call from Jonathan Taylor, assistant warden of RSPB Nene Washes saying he had a Wilson's Phalarope on the High Wash near Whittlesey – ie very close to Peterborough (indeed in the official Peterborough Bird Club recording area). I was off like a flash and, thanks to local birder Brian Stone climbing onto the roof of his car, we were able to refind it. It was raining, cloudy and dark, but I still managed a couple of digiscoped record shots. What a bird!

WIlson's Phalarope

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:
Being not far from Peterborough, Grafham Water's Wilson's Phalarope had me twitching during a week off, during the first week of May. It mainly either filter-fed by sweeping its head under the surface (like an Avocet) while swimming, or swam along behind the dabbling ducks, picking at what they stirred up. Occasionally, though, it went into a typical phalarope spin to stir up food to eat, as in this short video.

Grasshopper for lunch

Editor Kevin Wilmot writes:

Working in the edge-of-Fens outpost that is Peterborough does have its compensations, such as Ferry Meadows Country Park, just a couple of minutes' drive from the office.
This time of year, it's filled with the songs of warblers - Blackcaps, Garden Warblers and Whitethroats, with some Lesser Whitethroats and even a few Grasshopper Warblers, not that I'd ever seen one, let alone heard its reeling song.
It was to FM that Matt Merritt and I popped one lunchtime this week for an hour as the deadline for the June issue of Bird Watching loomed, to be greeted by very little of excitement on the two large lakes, but by the expected warblers in a delightful scrubby area hidden behind a children's play area.

Male Reed Bunting, by Mike Weedon (digiscope)

Blackcaps and Whitethroats were abundant, with plenty of Reed Buntings, tits and Robins... and then we heard it. Grasshopper Warbler! Close as well! Never easy birds to see, we contented ourselves with the strange 'freewheeling-bicycle' song, but trained our binoculars towards the bush where the sound seemed to be coming from.
And there it was! Skulking around the lower branches, but in full view and totally oblivious to our presence. A fantastic, all-too-short lunchbreak, and a trip to the chip shop on the way back was the icing on the 'Gropper' cake.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Swift turnaround

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
In a piece appearing in the forthcoming, June issue of Bird Watching, regular contributor Mark Ward says that each year, he reminds himself he must spend more time watching Swifts.
I'm with him all the way on that one. I live on a small Victorian terrace, and Swifts have nested under the eaves of the house three doors along every summer since I moved in, back in 2000. You can sit watching from the living-room on an early summer evening, listening to the screams, seemingly of sheer exhilaration, as they hurtle back and forth.
By last Sunday morning, I was getting a bit concerned as to their whereabouts, and worrying as I do every year that maybe the householders had had their roof fixed. Then, as I sat down with the papers and a cup of tea, I heard them out there, and went to the front door to watch. There they were, two of them, fairly high up at first, wheeling above the old folks' home opposite. Then they swooped down, almost skimming the walls, and passing so close to my head that I could feel the rush of air from their wings, before making as if to enter the nest hole.

Swift by Mike Weedon

But they didn't. I watched for maybe 20 minutes as they repeated this procedure again and again, then had to leave, rather downcast at the thought that a bit of DIY by my near-neighbours seemed to have left a pair of Swifts homeless. Don't get me wrong - maybe I'd feel differently if they were nesting in my roofspace, waking me early each morning, but it was still a sad moment. The hole, I assumed, was gone, with the Swifts likely to follow.
When I got home at about 7 that evening, all was quiet. It was only an hour or so later that the screaming started again, and I was outside in a flash. This time, without any hesitation, first one bird then the other flew towards the house at breakneck speed, before, with a bit of last-second braking and contortion, disappearing into the join between wall and roof. Relieved? I could have jumped for joy. OK, OK. I did.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
May's here, and with it the chance to combine two of the great loves of my life - birdwatching and cricket.
Now, although I've been playing for almost 25 years, my cricket is pretty much on a par with my birding - purely for fun, very local, and as much about the chance to get out in the open air as anything else. The club I play for, Snibston Grange, are in a league (the Gunn and Moore South Notts), and although we've had a fair amount of success in recent years, no one takes it TOO seriously.
There's only one snag, though, and that's the fact that cricket is incredibly time-consuming, and can easily swallow up large chunks of the weekend when I could otherwise be out birdwatching. So, I like to think I've mastered the art of keeping an eye out for any good birds while travelling to and from games, and even during them. I've not yet missed a catch because I'm too busy wondering if that's a Lesser Whitethroat in the nearby hedge (although I have missed them for umpteen less excusable reasons), so the two obsessions can co-exist.
This year, I thought I'd keep a list of birds seen purely on or over the grounds I play on. First game was on Saturday, a home friendly, and I got off to a slow start. Carrion Crow, House Sparrow, Starling, Blackbird, Feral Pigeon, Wood Pigeon, House Martin and Chiffchaff, plus the species that I'm betting will be the most commonly seen during the season - the Pied Wagtail. There were never less than four skittering around the outfield, and sometimes as many as eight, and although at first it's slightly distracting when you're stood at slip and there's two of them literally four or five paces to your right, you soon get used to it. British cricket grounds don't seem to get big flocks of seagulls settling on them like Down Under, but the Pied Wag is doing its best to fill the niche.
Actually, the prospects of tallying up a sizeable list are pretty good. For one thing, we play at some far-flung and rural locations, and the name Hoveringham on the fixture list this year promises some interesting species. Sadly Attenborough, who play just a few yards from a huge wildlife reserve, are in a different division this time around.
Secondly, our own ground, despite being in the middle of a medium-sized town (Coalville), has potential. Two sides of it are enclosed by the old Snibston Pit spoil heap, now overgrown with vegetation, partly wooded, and including a small nature reserve. Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker and the commoner warblers are regular, and it's even had Ring Ouzels and Wheatears in the past, although sadly just outside the season, so although I won't be smuggling a pair of binoculars onto the field under my sweater just yet, I'll be keeping a sharp eye out.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Center Parcs surprise

Editor Kevin Wilmot writes:

It's a source of constant amazement that any bird in its right mind would want to spend its days and nights anywhere near Center Parcs, but having just spent a weekend at the Elveden Forest Center Parcs near Thetford in Norfolk, I can report that the bird life there is thriving.

Despite constant traffic from hundreds of cycles and thousands of people (most of them lost), there are plenty of quieter areas where the bird life can offer some pleasant surprises. A Blackcap seemingly in every bush, plus Chiffchaffs, Jays, Coal, Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Chaffinches... but the highlight was a glorious male Siskin perched unobtrusively towards the bottom of a lakeside tree. A very pleasant surprise during an otherwise children-dominated weekend.

Back to the office today and it's very quiet without Mike Weedon and Carol Debney who are both on holiday. Mike, ever the considerate one, has just called me with news of a summer-plumaged Black Tern on a local gravel pit. Thanks mate! Don't worry about me - I'll man the phones...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Norfolk trip

Editor Kevin Wilmot writes:

One of the more enjoyable parts of my job on Bird Watching magazine is that I get to on 'press trips' as they're called. This might be in the form of a fortnight in Peru which I enjoyed last November (you can read all about it in the June issue of Bird Watching), or something much closer to home.
My most recent invitation was to spend a couple of days in Norfolk in the company of German optics manufacturers Steiner and their UK distributors Intro 2020. Steiner had just released their new Discovery binoculars and were keen to show them to the birdwatching press.
Great! Two days of birdwatching in one of the prime locations in UK at the perfect time of the year for incoming migrants. Our base was the exquisite Titchwell Manor Hotel and after lunch and a short presentation from the lovely Stephanie from Steiner, we were on our way to the reserve at Holme-next-the-Sea.
A singing Lesser Whitethroat was hopefully a taste of things to come as soon as we got off the bus and we were delighted when this skulker showed well at the top of a bush for a minute or so before realising that it shouldn't have been there and disappearing down below.
Further along the path (and after I got a polite ticking-off from the warden for walking 10 metres across the grass) we saw a group of birders and were soon focussing the Steiners on a magnificent pair of male Ring Ouzels. Rumours of a male Redstart in the same area proved unfounded, though a particularly vivid male Chaffinch was about (hmmm).
Next day, the RSPB Reserve at Titchwell gave us a splendid Short-Eared Owl, Cetti's Warbler, Bearded Tits, the boldest Sedge Warbler I'd ever seen, three Marsh Harriers, Barn Owl, a glorious breeding-plumaged Spotted Redshank, and unfeasibly large numbers of mating Avocets.
Oh, and the bins were brilliant!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Three Pigeons

Assitant editor Mike Weedon writes:
These three Feral Pigeons were outside our office window in Bretton, Peterborough, today doing not much.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Firsts in Coto Donana

Stone Pines in the Corredor Verde

Garden editor Carol Debney writes:

There's a first time for everything but my first visit to Coto Donana (April 17-21) combined several 'firsts' for me including some new birds and my first bird race. But the trip had a more serious purpose than bird racing – though I now realise just how serious that activity is – as along with Tim Appleton (Rutland Water), Keith Betton (Travel Consultant) and Mike Witherick (Ornitholidays), I was invited to attend the First Professional Meeting of Birdwatching Tourism in Andalusia. This involved some serious meetings intersposed with delicious Spanish food eaten at strange times and the chance to watch wonderful birds in some of the most beautiful woodland habitat I've ever seen. I just fell in love with the area known as the Corredor Verde where tall Stone Pines stand among masses of shrubby rock roses covered in pink and white blooms, wild flowers of many kinds are underfoot and the 'opoo-poo-poo' call of Hoopoes was everywhere.

An abundance of wildflowers

Keith (left) and Tim

Scenic shots of the Corredor Verde

I had reservations about the bird race but it was fun. By Friday our numbers had been swelled by bird tour operators from all over Europe and the USA so competition was fierce. We began with an early morning scramble for breakfast in a local bar where the single-handed owner was overwhelmed by massed-birders demanding coffee and toast. Then we were off. With Keith Betton at the wheel 'The BirdFair Team' was soon clocking up good numbers of species while, as recorder, I tried to scrawl legible lists as we jolted over bumps and potholes. The terrain is rough for this kind of activity as even the metalled roads have lots of speed bumps intended to stop boy racers!

Conference organiser Beltran de Caballos Vazquez (left) and bird-race organiser Jorge Garzón

We finished at 2.30pm when all entries were scrutinised – and a few sightings disallowed! Trust me, I'm a journalist, I'll mention no names! The BirdFair Team came a respectable (we were gutted) third with a total of 104 species, beaten by The International Brigade, led by Gerry Foster Thomas (Celtic Bird Tours) with a total of 112. Lunch and a few beers helped.

The International Brigrade, bird-race winners (Gerry in the hat with the prizes)

My new birds included Crested (Red-knobbed) Coot, White-headed Duck and Azure-winged Magpie which I saw along with other great birds including Black Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, Short-toed and Booted Eagle, Bee-eaters, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Purple Swamp Hen, Little Bittern, masses of herons and egrets, terns, ducks, waders, warblers and larks. I enjoyed the birdrace far more than I expected but I prefer slow birding by foot or even just standing in one place and waiting to see what turns up. Coto Donana would be a great place to do that!