Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Birding getaways

Later this year in Bird Watching, you'll be able to read UKBS stalwart and Scottish birding enthusiast Gordon Hamlett's excellent account of an RSPB Birding Weekend at the Cavens Hotel, Kirkbean, Dumfries and Galloway.

In the meantime, though, you can find out more about the hotel (situated on the bird-rich Solway Firth) and the birdwatching breaks it offers here.

It has RSPB Weekends scheduled on April 23rd-25th and November 5th-7th, when you can join RSPB experts for a trip packed with the best of Solway birds, including flocks of geese, breeding waders, dabbling and diving ducks, spectacular seabirds, spring songsters, migrants and
birds of prey. Visiting some of the best bird-watching sites along the North Solway Coast, you can expect to see around 100 different species.

The all-inclusive weekends include:
Drinks reception with expert
Ranger-led daily excursions & talks
Delicious dinners including wine
Packed lunches
Hearty Scottish breakfasts
Afternoon tea
£137.50 pppn or £550 for Country rooms
£150 pppn or £600 for Estate rooms
(based on two people sharing)

In addition, 10% of your room rate goes directly to the RSPB.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

30,000 Barnacle Geese

This is what happens when 30,000 Barnacle Geese take off and fly directly over your head. This is just part of the massive flock we saw in Friesland, north Netherlands, on a weekend tour with Birding Holland (www.birdingholland.com) this February.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More migration watch

We're starting to get the first reports of summer visitors arriving in the UK, with a small group of Sand Martins at Marloes Mere, Pembrokeshire, and both Sand Martin and Wheatear seen around Worksop, Nottinghamshire, at the weekend.

Let us know as and when you note the arrival of migrants, and we'll try to build up a picture of just what's going on out there.

And us? Well, we go to press with the April issue today, but once that's finished, we'll be out there scanning the skies with the rest of you...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


written and compiled by Steve Dudley

The first annual report for the island covering all species recorded on the island in 2009 and details of many rare and scarce species records from previous years.

50 pages covering 257 species, many colour photographs.

As well as accounts of commoner species, records covered also include many notable scarce and rare species including details of the first Lesvos records of Steppe Eagle, Pectoral Sandpiper, Red Knot, Little Swift, White-throated Dipper and Bluethroat; the second Caspian Plover; the fourth Whooper Swan; the fourth and fifth Terek Sandpipers; the fifth White-tailed Eagle; the eighth Common Pochard; and tenth Egyptian Vulture. In addition, the report includes the first recorded winter records of Black Kite, Turtle Dove sp. and Short-toed Lark.

FREE to view web version PDF (3Mb) via the Lesvos Birding Website – www.lesvosbirding.com

FREE high res PDF download (37Mb) also available from Lesvos Birding Website.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Migration watch

There are two sides to visible migration. One is the hard slog – standing on a windswept hilltop, freezing cold, getting a crick in your neck as you try to log huge numbers of Sky Larks, Meadow Pipits, geese or whatever passing overhead.

Despite all that, the rewards are enormous. There’s no better way to get an idea of just how many bird movements go on in these islands, even among species we often think of as essentially sedentary.

The other side of it is the happy accidents. A couple of years ago, I went along to a local reservoir at the end of March to see a Lesser Scaup that had arrived the previous day. As I set up my scope on the crowded dam, I looked up at the observation tower just as a very bedraggled Wheatear alighted on it. For 15, maybe 20 minutes, it sat there, occasionally preening, but mainly just getting its breath back. It visibly revived, before heading on its way further north, perhaps even beyond the UK.

Yesterday was a glorious, clear day, but still probably a week or 10 days too early to realistically expect the first Wheatears or Sand Martins. I went over to Willington Gravel Pits, a fine Derbyshire Wildlife Trust reserve between Derby and Burton, mainly in the hope of seeing the Water Pipits that have been there.

After parking in the village, I walked up the green lane as far as the entrance to the reserve itself, when I heard the unmistakeable ‘coor-li’ call of the Curlew. Small numbers are fairly regular visitors here in spring and autumn, but at first I struggled to locate just where the sound was coming from.

I scanned over the valley of the River Trent towards Repton, and finally, between the trees and hedges and fences, picked up some movement in the water meadows there. A flock of 30 or so Curlew were bustling along the riverbank, feeding constantly as they went. Once or twice, they were flushed into the air by dogwalkers, but they quickly returned to the same spot and resumed their lunch, joined now by a pair of Oystercatchers.

Now, I love Curlews anyway, and although we don’t have huge numbers on my inland patch, neither are they particularly difficult to find in the course of the year. This, though, was the biggest flock I can remember for a long, long time, and the sight and sound of them even overshadowed the long-staying Bittern that flapped over the reedbed a little later, or the Whooper Swan drifting through a flock of Goosanders.

I suspect they’ll be gone on their way to their breeding grounds very soon (indeed, they’re probably already gone), which makes the lucky chance of our paths crossing all the more pleasurable.

We want to hear about migration on your patch. Let us know when your first summer visitors arrive, about large-scale movements of year-round birds, or anything else you see on your travels.

Matt Merritt, features editor

Friday, March 5, 2010

How did you start birding?

What was your birding 'eureka' moment?

The Glamorgan UKBS report for the April issue arrived this morning, and the mention in it of the Ogmore Estuary took me back to childhood summer holidays in South Wales. My mum's family are all from Bridgend, Kenfig and the surrounding area, so every year we went down there and spent days on the beaches at Porthcawl and Ogmore. One year when I was still pretty young, I remember standing at the edge of the water at Ogmore and seeing a small flock of Oystercatchers fly over. They're such an eyecatching bird that they must have really caught my fancy, so off I went to find out more.

There were other things that got me started, notably having to do a project on birds at school. It led me to start watching the Kestrels that nested up a lane near our house (incidentally, walking down that lane a couple of weeks ago, it was good to see that there were still Kestrels doing well), but that moment on the beach might just have been the start of my birdwatching life.

So what was it that started you off? Let us know...

Matt Merritt, features editor

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Keep the questions coming

One of the most interesting, and enjoyable, parts of the production process at Bird Watching is putting together the Q&A pages.

Every month, we get a little flood of queries from readers about birds they've seen, behaviour they've noticed, or features they've read in previous issues of the magazine. While we're sometimes able to answer them straight away, on other occasions we send them out to friends whose specialist expertise can help us come up with a fuller explanation.

But, we're also always pleased at how often readers come up with the answers. What might be unheard of to a birder in one part of the country might be obvious, or familiar, to a someone else.

So, don't hesitate to write or email with your questions, or your answers. It's a learning process for all of us.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Make a difference

You'll have noticed by now that I do a lot of thinking about birds and birding on my journeys to and from work, and today was no difference.

With the weather much more pleasant than it has been for ages, and spring on the point of exploding into life, it was disappointing to see long stretches of hedgerows not just cut back, but stripped almost bare, at exactly the time of year when many birds will be looking to use them for nesting.

Now this isn't an anti-farming rant. A lot of farmers do a great deal to help the birding environment, but the main problem in cases like this one, I suspect, is that some are still unaware of just how relatively minor changes to their routine can impact on wildlife.

A bigger hobby horse, for me, is the cutting of roadside verges by councils. In some locations this is, to be fair, absolutely necessary for the sake of visibility and road safety, but in others it seems absolutely pointless. It does, however, significantly affect birds, by reducing the amount of available insect and seed food, and by reducing scrubby cover.

So, if you get the chance, have a quiet word with your local farmer about bird-friendly scheduling of tasks such as hedging, and better still write to your local council to suggest that this spring and summer, they let the verges grow. They'll be doing birds a big favour, and they'll be saving themselves a lot of money.

Matt Merritt, features editor

Monday, March 1, 2010

Buzzard variations

My birding over the weekend was pretty much limited to the garden, for one reason and another, although I did manage to walk a little two-mile circuit close to my house yesterday afternoon.

But home and away, the most noticeable birds were Buzzards, in pairs, soaring and mewing away like crazy. A pair drifted fairly low right over my garden at one point, a first, although I’ve seen one in the nearby cemetery regularly.

These days, they’re the UK’s commonest raptor, but the sound of them always makes me think back to the days when they were a comparatively rare treat on a trip to the Peak District or Wales.

It’s fast reaching a point when some birders don’t pay them much attention (although quite apart from anything else, it's always worth checking fro the possibility of Rough-legged Buzzard).

But one of the real pleasures of Buzzards is the variation in plumages. Within 15 miles of home, there’s one very pale bird, appearing almost white from a distance, and another very dark one. And then, driving into work this morning, I saw one on a roadside fencepost that, while mid-brown, had only the merest hint of the U-shaped pale breast band that’s usually such a distinctive feature. Variety - it's the spice of birdwatching.

Matt Merritt, features editor