Thursday, March 24, 2005

King of the castle

My first Little Ringed Plover of the year (and possibly the first of the PBC area in 2005) was this bird, calling repeatedly on top of a mountain of gravel at Maxey/Etton pits, Cambs (23.3.05). The yellow flowers on the gravel slope are Coltsfoot, which is looking splendid at present.

Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER

Monday, March 21, 2005

What a nest!

Long-tailed Tit nest, Peterborough, 20.3.05

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers

Enticed by the chance of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (one of my all-time favourite birds), I hit Woodwalton Fen NNR, Cambs, on Sunday morning (20.3.05). I followed the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few odd taps to a part of the woodland there which reminded me of the Polish forests which I have never visited – all rotting timber and moss everywhere: superb woodpecker habitat. A Great Spotted drummed just above my head, Treecreepers and Goldcrests were everywhere, but the real stars of the the show, the Lesser Spotteds, were nothing short of sensational.

Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
I had previously seen LSWs mating in north London, but I had never witnessed anything like what was going on around me. Three birds (at least) were involved. They were drumming and calling all the time, and chasing each other through the trees, doing a flamboyant 'butterfly flight', gliding and swaying in the air on fully-spread wings held in a 'V', and rocking (almost like the display flight of a Black-tailed Godwit, and also a bit like a Greenfinch). At other times they flew around making a curious 'drumming' sound (like faint hammering) with their wings in flight.
When they landed they spread their wings back and held them there, calling repeatedly. Often two birds would land side-by-side and each hold their wings out. Occasionally, one of the pair would fly off from this position and chase another interloper using the 'butterfly flight'.
I put together some sketches:

Then when I got home I checked BWP (the birdwatcher's Bible) and here this amazing behaviour was superbly illustrated (I'm afraid I pinched these pics):

This activity went on for at least half an hour. Sometimes, a Great Spotted Woodpecker (and at one time a pair) got involved and attacked a calling Lesser Spotted while it was wing-spreading. All-in-all, a very exciting morning's birding and some of the best bird behaviour I have witnessed in years.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker
Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER


Black-tailed Godwits, Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire, 19.3.05

Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER

Ferry Meadows birds

I spent a day at Ferry Meadows CP with the Bird Watching magazine optics testing team (Katie Fuller, Graham Catley and Mark Ward), testing x32 binoculars. Between tests there was a bit of opportunity to practise a little digiscoping. Here are the best of what I got.

Reed Bunting



Great Tit
Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER


Mute Swan, Nene Washes, 19.3.05
Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER

Monday, March 14, 2005


Sacrewell Farm Centre, 12.3.05
Nikon Coolpix 880


Orton brick pits, Cambs, 12.3.05.
Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER

Green Sandpiper

One of three at Maxey/Etton pits, Cambs, 12.3.05.
Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER


Sacrewell Farm Centre, 12.3.05
Nikon Coolpix 880

Monday, March 07, 2005

Nene Washes, part 2

In the late afternoon yesterday (6.3.05), I was acting as a volunteer, helping out Jonathan Taylor of the RSPB on an RSPB bird walk along the bank at Eldernell (Cambs), overlooking the Nene Washes. We saw some superb stuff, with Tree Sparrows at the feeders, then great views of Barn Owl, exceptional views of a Short-eared Owl (even for those who joined us without binoculars) and some pleasing Brown Hare action.
As it got colder, things got hotter, with JT finding a first-winter Iceland Gull on the wash (the reserve's first). Here is a distant shot in fading light.

Then, some Whooper Swans came in accompanied by a European White-fronted Goose, which judging by the restricted white on its 'front', was probably a first-winter bird (a very scarce species in these parts). Again, a very ropey photo...

Finally, while still light at 6 o'clock, those of us who waited were treated to a 'glowing' Bittern drifting in from the west to its favourite roost site in the north-west corner of Eldernell Pit. No photos but the strongest lasting memories for me of a great walk.
Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER

Some woodland action

Yesterday afternoon (6.3.05), I got the call: Waxwings, seven of the blighters, half a mile from my house. An hour and a half of touring around later, there was still not a tinkle of them. So I dibbled in Thorpe Wood and came up with these Marsh Tit shots.

Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER

Nene Washes, part 1

Yesterday (6.3.05), I had a busy old birding day. In the early morning, I visited the RSPB Nene Washes reserve, which was solid with ice and glorious. The first bird I saw was a Barn Owl, and the second a Short-eared Owl – two of my favourite birds. The long walk down the central drove provided few highlights, though, as always the place is full of atmosphere. A flock of about 50 Dunlin was one of the most interesting things, though I also found this dog fox lurking in the long grass.

Unfortunately, I mentioned this later to the assistant warden, and I fear the fox's days are numbered, as they are shot if found as potential destroyers of scarce wader chicks.
The other highlight for me was a cluster of three Stonechats which I tried to photograph along the drove.

Despite the frozen ground, this one managed to grab a worm, which you can just see part of still in its bill.

Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER

Saturday, March 05, 2005

New visitor

This male Pheasant, with prominent white lateral crown stripes, is a new visitor to our Peterborough garden as of today (5.3.05). For the last couple of years we have been visited by one or two Pheasants, coming in from the nearby allotments, but this is the first I have seen looking like this.

Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER

Great Grey Shrike

I broke my usual pattern and shattered the shackles of the PBC area boundary today. It is only a half-hour drive to Oakham, Rutland, from Peterborough, so I whizzed over there to see a Great Grey Shrike which has been hanging around in some allotments on Land's End Way. It was blinking freezing and the ground was solid as a rock when I arrived (and when I left), which was handy for my feet, as it saved them getting muddy. Not so handy, though for my frozen fingers and for the poor shrike who would find it hard to forage.
It took about half and hour to locate the shrike which was hanging around warming up in a hedge, all fluffed out (occasionally preening), getting the odd scolding from the local Blue Tits.
After a bit, the long-tailed beauty went up to sit on the overhead wires, from where it handily flew very close to me and I had to back off to digiscope it. The results are not too bad, but would have been so much better if the sun had come out while it was on the wires!

It appeared to be picking food off the branches, as if this were its larder; but I couldn't see either food there or thorns to impale anything...

And so it went up onto the wires to patrol the whole of the small allotment area.

Great Grey Shrike, Oakham, Rutland, 5.3.05
For larger photos, check out Weedon
Nikon Coolpix 880 + Kowa TSN-821 + 32xW LER