Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Show us your garden!

We're looking for Britain's Best Bird Garden - and it could be yours.
Unlike other garden competitions, we're not after neatly trimmed borders and colourful combinations of creepers, we want the sort of gardens that birds love. That means plenty of shelter, plenty of food, plenty of water and plenty of nesting opportunites.
We'll pick one winner every month - who will win four 12.5kg sacks of Wild About Birds seeds - and then, at the end of the year, we'll choose an overall winner to receive a year's supply of Wild About Birds seed - that's a 20kg bag every month for a year!

To enter, just visit www.bestbirdgarden.co.uk
The closing date for entries is Dec 31, 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wondering about Waxwings

I saw my first Waxwings of the winter right back at the end of October, a handful close to home, but it's taken until the last week to catch up with many more. On Sunday, though, there were three decent sized flocks in the middle of Coalville, Leicestershire, where I live.

The first thing to notice was that these birds were very much confirming what we're always told about Waxwings, with two of the flocks turning up in supermarket car-parks (Netto and the Co-op/Iceland, out of interest, although I'm not sure they're especially discerning).

The third flock, in a few rowan trees around the Clock Tower, tended to refute the Waxwing stereotype, though. They actually fed on very few berries (the trees around the square had been largely stripped anyway), instead spending most of their time eating the occasional insect, and hanging around in the manner of people waiting for a party to begin.

The good news for them is that, when the cold weather returns in the next couple of days, there are plenty of berries still around. The car-park of the nearby doctor's surgery is one huge cotoneaster buffet just waiting to be raided.

Finally, on the way to work this morning, a few were in a tree next to the A47 at Tixover. It's strange that, though they can look superficially Starling-like, you very quickly start to find them totally distinctive, even at distances at which their crests aren't apparent. It's something to do with the way they move and interract with each other - a classic case of 'jizz' being more important than more tangible ID factors.

Monday, December 13, 2010

UKBS reports for November

Christmas meant an early deadline for our January issue, and as a result a few of the monthly UKBS reports arrived just too late to make it into the print issue. Here they are:

Greater Manchester - November
Highlights: A Pied-billed Grebe was at Hollingworth Lake (6th-21st). A Slavonian Grebe lingered at Audenshaw Reservoirs (1st-21st). Eight Whooper Swans flew over Burnt Edge and two were at Audenshaw Reservoirs (both 1st), 14 flew over Whitefield (10th), three flew over Horwich (13th) and two were on Hoillingworth Lake (16th). Waxwings were present in large numbers with maximum counts at Winter Hill (250), Wigan (230), Horwich centre (125), Bolton (81), Stockport (70), Swinton (65), Horwich Moors (37), Hale (30), Oldham Broadway (30), Salford (30), Moston (28), Timperley (20) and Rochdale (20).

Elton Reservoir: A Scaup was present (1st-20th). Seven Bar-tailed Godwits flew over (6th). A single Long-eared Owl was present (from 1st) with two later in the month (19th-30th). Two Whopper Swans were recorded (14th). Eight Waxwings was the maximum count (25th) with a single also present (20th-22nd).

Mersey Valley: A drake Mandarin was on Shell Pool (14th) as well as a pair of Goldeneyes. Peregrine (3rd) and Raven (20th) were both seen over Shell NR. Over 350 Pink-footed Geese flew over the Carrington Moss area. A Water Rail was still at Shell NR.

Other sites: A Lapland Bunting flew over Winter Hill (7th) with a maximum of nine Crossbills also over (19th). A Short-eared Owl flew over Whitefield as did nearly 2,500 Pink-footed Geese (both 10th). A Ring Ouzel was at Rumworth Lodge (13th) with another over Horwich (13th). Audenshaw Reservoir held a Yellow-legged Gull  (10th-27th) while another was at Castleshaw Reservoir (10th). Two Black Redstarts were still in the Horwich/Winter Hill area and another was at Piethorne Reservoir (16th). A Bittern was in the Wigan Flashes at Hawkley Reedbed (30th).
Dr Paul Brewster (01606 590 491)

South Lincolnshire - November
RSPB Frampton Marsh: Three Bewick’s Swans (12th) were more unexpected than the more numerous records of Whooper Swans. A Black Brant was seen in company of the regular flock of 2,500 dark-bellied Brent Geese on several occasions. Good counts of duck on the Scrapes included 700 Teal (6th) and 650 Wigeon (13th). Two Scaup were on the reedbed for much of the month. A Little Stint remained (to 7th) and up to 53 Ruff were also seen. A Water Pipit made a brief appearance (1st), as did Frampton’s first ever Bearded Tits (three, on 15th), but Lapland Buntings were a little more obliging, with up to eight seen. The highest count of Twite on the Saltmarsh was 90 (17th).

RSPB Freiston Shore: October’s American Golden Plover remained with up to 8,000 Golden Plovers (to 1st). On the sea 75 Common Scoter and two Velvet Scoters were seen (7th) when a first-winter Glaucous Gull was watched following a shrimp trawler. Two Goosander were also present on the Lagoon. Strong onshore winds (9th) produced Grey Phalarope, Sooty Shearwater, two Manx Shearwaters, 141 Common Scoters, Little Gull and a Red-necked Grebe, which was also seen 14th & 21st. Two Long-tailed Ducks were seen (10th & 14th) and a Black Brant (21st).

Whisby Nature Park: November is usually a quiet month, but this one proved to be somewhat different. On the Whisby side some peak counts included 15 Snipe, 12 Tree Sparrows, 50-plus Lesser Redpolls and 65-plus Siskins. Other good birds included a Waxwing (11th), two Jack Snipe (13th), Peregrines (18th & 23rd), the first Woodcock of the winter (25th), a male Mandarin (26th-28th), a Water Rail (27th), up to three Goosander (26th-30th) and a wintering Green Sandpiper (30th). On the N Hykeham side regular gull-watching was rewarded with adult Caspian Gulls (25th & 29th), up to six Yellow-legged Gulls all month and an adult Med Gull (29th). A drake Scaup (15th-23rd) was another good local find.

Gibraltar Point NNR: There were two Taiga Bean Geese (29th) and five White-fronted Geese (21st). There 32 Barnacle Geese (29th-30th), four Velvet Scoter (28th), a Great Northern Diver (26th), an Iceland Gull (28th), a Bearded Tit (20th) and three (21st). Shore Larks were present from 4th, when there were 12, with 15 (13th) and 11 (28th). A Pallas’s Warbler was present (17th). Maximum number of Waxwings reported was 31 (5th). Up to 35 Snow Buntings were present during the month and 16 Lapland Buntings. A Rough-legged Buzzard was seen (30th), and one was nearby at Wainfleet (2nd & 5th). Three Pomarine Skuas were at Skegness (9th), a Black Redstart at Gibraltar Point (12th) and another at Skegness (13th).

Other sites: A Ring-necked Duck was present at Bardney Pits (1st-28th) and a Black-necked Grebe was there (21st). A Grey Phalarope was at Boston Golf Course (7th). A Great Grey Shrike was at RAF Woodhall (7th) and a Raven at Bicker Fen (21st). At Marston Sewage Farm, there were four Bearded Tits (6th) and five (15th), and a Cetti's Warbler (10th & 15th). Waxwings were widely reported, highest numbers being 12 at Spalding (7th), 14-plus at Lincoln (from 14th), 26 at Sloothby (24th), and 16 at Sutterton. There were 20 Lapland Buntings reported at Gedney Drove End.
Steve Keightley, County Recorder, assisted by Colin Jennings, John Badley, Grahame Hopwood.

Ayrshire - November
Highlights: There was an unconfirmed report of an American Herring Gull at Troon harbour (5th). A first-winter Black Redstart at Turnberry Point (24th-30th), a Little Auk off Saltcoats (26th), and a Water Pipit at Seamill (29th-30th) were notable.

General: The Waxwing invasion continued as birds dispersed widely. Largest flocks were 400+ at Irvine (9th), 300 at Prestwick (10th) and 200+ at Saltcoats (15th). Up to 3 Great Northern Divers were between Turnberry and Dipple throughout. Up to three Leach’s Petrels were at Troon and Stevenston (3rd-5th). By the end of the month there were five pale-bellied Brent Geese at Maidens. The largest herd of Whooper Swans was 75  at Springside/Knockentiber (2nd). Two Hen Harriers were near Cumnock (9th) and at Auchinleck there were two Jack Snipe on the same day. Single Merlins were at Irvine (10th) and Greenan (13th).  A Great Skua was off Troon and Stevenston Point (12th) and off Saltcoats (13th) where there was also a Pomarine Skua (11th) and another along with a Storm Petrel (13th). A female Long-tailed Duck remained in Maidens harbour (13th-30th). A Slavonian Grebe was at Southannan Sands (14th), when six Grey Plovers were at nearby Hunterston. Another Slavonian Grebe was at Saltcoats (26th). An unusually high count of 39 Black Guillemots was seen between Portencross and Hunterston (14th). A Green Sandpiper was along the Cessnock Water at Barleith (15th) and four female Ruff at Saltoats on the same day. Two Snow Buntings appeared at Prestwick Beach (16th), a single was at Turnberry Point (26th-27th) and five were at Prestwick (30th). A Ring-necked Parakeet was in Skelmorlie (13th), Alloway (24th) and Saltcoats (28th). The adult Iceland Gull remained on the river Ayr throughout. A large movement of Woodpigeon was noted at the beginning of the month. Small groups of Bramblings were widespread and large finch and lark flocks were noted, particularly at the coast. Crossbills were noted in most forests and groups of up to 10 Woodcock were also reported.  Nuthatches at bird feeders in Alloway suggest a consolidation in that area. Mixed flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese were widespread but small.
Michael Howes

Thursday, July 8, 2010

UKBS: Greater Manchester

Because of an early deadline for the August issue, one or two UKBS reports may not have made the cut-off. Here, then, is the Greater Manchester round-up, with the birds seen in June.

Greater Manchester

Highlights: A Red Kite flew over Woodford Aerodrome (4th). The male Black Redstart was still in Manchester city centre all month. A Marsh Harrier was at Bryn Marsh, Wigan (12th-13th). A Quail was flushed from an Offerton garden (17th).

Mersey Valley: A drake Wigeon lingered at Shell Pool late month (23rd-30th).

Elton Reservoir: Star bird was a brief Little Tern with the Common Terns (6th). Ten Gadwall (3rd) was a noteworthy count. A Dipper was regularly seen nearby from Bury Bridge.

Other sites: A drake Garganey was at Horrock's Flash, Wigan (1st) with 31 Black-tailed Godwits there later in the month (17th).

Dr Paul Brewster 01606 590 491 (& Peter Alker Pennington Flash, 01942 605 253), Chris Nield, Peter Baron

Friday, June 25, 2010

Deceased Kingfisher

(Assistant editor) Mike Weedon writes: I found this male Kingfisher dead at the top of the stairway up to our offices this morning. I am not sure how it died, but there were no obvious wounds and the neck was very floppy. I suspect that it may have flown up from the carp pond and hit one of the shiny windows. These photos were taken by Darren Harbar of Practical Photography magazine.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Derbyshire UKBS for May 2010

Owing to a technical glitch in our July 2010 issue, Rod Key's Derbyshire report for UK Bird Sightings went AWOL (in fact it morphed into a duplicate of the Herefordshire report...). Here, then, for those of you who missed it (pretty much everyone), is the Derbyshire report for the birds seen in May 2010. Apologies all round.


Highlights: A Great Reed Warbler, a county first, was at Straw’s Bridge Pond, Ilkeston (from 12th). A Red-rumped Swallow was at Ogston Reservoir (29th-30th). Nine Cetti’s Warblers were in the Trent Valley. A Spoonbill was at Willington Canal Pit (29th). A Montagu’s Harrier was on the North Derbyshire Moors (to 19th). Seven Dotterel were at Abney Moor (11th) with two (16th-18th). Two more flew over Big Moor (19th). Five Cranes were at Ogston Reservoir (3rd). A possible Black Kite was at Higher Tor, Hathersage Moor (17th).

Aston-on-Trent gravel pits: A Marsh Harrier flew west (1st). There were three Sanderling (29th), with a few Dunlin and Ringed Plovers.

Carr Vale: Eight Marsh Harriers flew through. The Bar-tailed Godwit remained (to 4th). A Whimbrel was seen (5th and 10th) with a Little Egret and Greenshank (19th). A Wood Warbler (3rd) was a rare record here.

Carsington Water: The Great Northern Diver remained (to 8th), as did the Scaup (to 1st). An Osprey sat on a buoy eating a fish (26th). There were two Sanderling (12th) with one (26th), a Turnstone (8th-10th), eight Whimbrels (5th) with 15 (8th), a Greenshank (10th) and three Black-tailed Godwits (5th). A Mediterranean Gull was seen (1st), with a Black Tern (28th). Arctic Terns peaked at four (8th).

Foremark Reservoir: There were seven Common Scoters (31st). A Black Redstart was seen (8th). A Wood Warbler was at Carvers Rocks (31st).

Middleton Moor: There were three Sanderling, four Dunlin and 19 Ringed Plovers (29th) with one Sanderling (30th). Seventeen Greenland Wheatears were seen (3rd).

Ogston Reservoir:
There were Red Kites (1st and 23rd), Ospreys (8th and 15th) and a Marsh Harrier (19th). Sixteen Whimbrels were seen (7th) with one (10th), a Sanderling (22nd) and Turnstone (15th). A Sandwich Tern arrived (19th), with a Little Tern (26th) and 52 Arctic Terns (7th).

Willington gravel pits: Garganeys were seen (9th-12th and 22nd-31st), with four Wigeon and a Teal noted. Three Marsh Harriers were logged. There was a Grey Plover (10th), three Sanderling (6th), with one (22nd), up to 13 Black-tailed Godwits, a Greenshank (6th) and a Wood Sandpiper (19th-21st). A Mediterranean Gull (1st), Little Gull (31st), Sandwich Tern (2nd), Black Tern (22nd) and up to 17 Arctic Terns were seen.

Other sites: Red Kites were at seven sites including three over the A38 near Ripley (23rd). Marsh Harriers were at Ambaston gravel pits (3rd), Barbrook Pools (23rd) and Erewash Meadows (27th). An Osprey flew over Clowne (7th). Two Quails were at Etwall sewage farm (26th). Six Greenshanks were at Barbrook Pools (8th). Wood Sandpipers were at Ambaston gravel pits (3rd) and Pleasley Colliery (21st-22nd). Four Sandwich Terns were at Barrow gravel pits (3rd) with a Black Tern at Straw’s Bridge Pond, Ilkeston (15th). Two Hawfinches were at Cromford Canal (2nd). Long Eaton gravel pits logged two Shelducks, two Egyptian Geese and an Arctic Tern (5th).
Rod Key (r_key@sky.com)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter birding

Easter's always a favourite time of year for me, because of course it falls during the spring migration period. A little earlier this year than some, and certainly a little colder, but still a great chance to get out there and try to catch up with a few migrants.

In fact, though, my two birding highlights of the long weekend didn't involve new arrivals at all. The first came on Saturday, in the unlikely surroundings of Welford Road, Leicester Tigers' rugby ground.

Now, over the years, I've got some reasonably good ticks while watching sport, with the best probably being an Osprey drifting over the cricket club where I play. But, in many years of watching at Welford Road, or more often at the nearby Walkers Stadium (and Filbert Street before that), I've learned not to expect much more than Feral Pigeons and Black-headed Gulls going overhead.

But, as I stood there around 20 minutes before the kick-off, with 22,000 people packed in for the game against old rivals Bath, my eye was caught by a bird flying diagonally across the stadium, just above the level of the tallest stand. The sun caught it, and I could see that it was a Woodcock, one of the last birds I'd expect to see in the middle of Leicester. I excitedly pointed it out to everyone around me - not suprisingly, most looked at me as if I'd lost my marbles!

Yesterday, as I returned home from looking for Wheatears, Ring Ouzels and Black Redstarts at Beacon Hill (only the former were to be found), a large bird drifted across the road in front of me at a height of around 100ft. For a second I took it for a gull, then realised that it was a Curlew, followed by another.

In the time it took to park safely, they'd landed in a large field where I've often seen them at this time of year (so much so, in fact, that I think of it as the Easer Monday Curlew field). They were a bit nervous, but for 45 minutes or so, I watched them feeding and occasionally doing their wonderful display flight and song, the latter a bubbling, trilling thing of beauty that is probably my favourite ever birdsong.

Whether they breed locally is unclear (they certainly did within living memory), but the Curlews that I see in this particular vicinity are always around six weeks later than the first I see going through the local gravel pits. For me, their appearance is always proof that spring has well and truly arrived.

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