Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Rare treats

I added a couple of rare birds to my PBC list today (27.10.04). After the rush of recent additions and potential additions to the Western Palearctic List, perhaps I have 'found' a couple of new species. Or are they hybrids? Both were photographed at Bretton, Peterborough.

Half Waxwing, half House Sparrow, the House Waxwing Bombycilla domestica

Half Wren, half Dipper, the Wren Dipper, Troglodytes cinclus

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

White-fronted Goose

Katie Bogbumper took me down to Ferry Meadows CP this lunchtime (26.10.04). We went in at the Milton Ferry Bridge end. A quick scan over the meadows near the Nene (the Heron Meadows area, I think) brought an unusual grey goose among the Canadas. So we snuck a bit closer and found it was a European White-fronted Goose. There are also a couple of Barnacle Geese in this flock and unusual geese down at the park always get a certain amount of chin-rubbing and coughed-under-the-breath "ahem-plastic-ahem-cough-splutter".
Make of it what you will. Here are a couple of digibinned shots using RSPB 8x32FG bins and a Nikon Coolpix 4500.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Woodwalton Fen and other antics

I had a strange weekend out birdwatching and the like. My usual Saturday morning (23.20.04) jaunt to Prior's Fen (after White-fronted Geese and Bearded Tits, this week) was not at all productive, largely owing to high winds. One distant flock of geese intrigued me, as they looked to be feeding in an odd part of a field, and through the scope looked like small-race Canada Geese feeding with Grey Herons and Greylags! I largely ignored them until I got a bit closer and realised that the geese were two-dimensional decoys (of White-fronted and Canada Geese), flapping in the breeze and whacking their heads on the ground. Then I saw two camouflaged heads and a couple of guns and realised what was going on...
It is hard to believe that geese would be stupid enough to go for 2-D dummies, and it seems that these shooters were frankly skinflints, skimping on decoys. Each to their own, I guess, but what tastlessness they showed in trying to lure geese with locally scarce Whitefronts.
I made a hasty retreat...
The best birds I encountered were a couple of dark Buzzards and I flushed a Jack Snipe (there is always one in the same place).
While my daughter was at ballet, I checked out Star Pit (at Dogsthorpe Tip) which was full of gulls and a dozen or so Redshanks – it is lovely and shallow, with very inviting mud...

I spent Sunday morning (24.20.04) at Woodwalton Fen NNR (at least for a couple of hours). A couple of Bearded Tits had been seen the weekend before, so I put myself into the hide at Rothschild Mere and watched and listened.

I'd forgotten what a great place this is, full of fennish atmosphere and loads of birds. There was nothing outstanding, just a steady coming and going of birds and a chance to watch displaying, randy Teal and Mallards (head-up-tail-up displays) doing there stuff.
I eventually resorted to a bit of digiscoping of Mallards.

A steady trickle of Meadow Pipit visible migration passed over, and there were plenty of Wrens and Goldcrests hanging about, making a delightful racket (no Beardies though). A piglet squealed from the reedbed to the left, and another Water Rail screeched out a whingeing reply. Perhaps my last Swallow of the year popped in and out again. A young Mute Swan landed on the water, calling (sounding just like a Crane) at family groups of Mutes passing over.
A few times, flocks of 50 or so Fieldfares came chacking along to look for berries, and once or twice they settled for a munch.

Later in the day (when I had a brief window), I called in at CEGB reservoir, south of Peterborough, which is far too flooded over the reedbed area for the wintering Jack Snipe and Snipe we expect there. I had a quick wander though, and put up a Water Rail, a single Snipe and a Jack Snipe (and a second or the same later).
Before returning home I popped back to Star Pit. Not a bird. The pit had been taken over by Chav scoundrels who, like waders, are attracted to the shallow water and mud and use this new WT reserve as a motocross course.
Ah, the entertainment people get around here: shooting and fishing and generally destroying the only places with any decent wildlife...

Later still we popped down to Ferry Meadows, where I couldn't resist a scope over the nicely-flooded Heron Meadows area. There were about 85 Teal kipping out there, though nothing much else apart from a largish flock of Black-headed Gulls. Despite the number of people there, it was calm and peaceful and beautiful...

Friday, October 22, 2004

From the archives... No. 4

I was having a look around Ferry Meadows yesterday (21.10.04) and, though it was very windy, one or two Migrant Hawker dragonflies were still on the wing. This got me a bit nostalgic abou the glory months of summer, when our dragonfly friends were the most prominent wildlife out there and 'interesting' birds were thin on the ground. So, I got to dibbling in the archive and dragged out a couple of slightly similar damselflies, the Red-eyed Damselfy, which hangs out on lilypads on slow-moving water bodies, and the smaller Blue-tailed Damselfy, which hangs around the edges of water bodies.

Red-eyed Damselfy, Woodwalton Fen, Cambs, 28.6.04.

Blue-tailed Damselfy, Woodwalton Fen, Cambs, 28.6.04.

Moon... again

Moon, 21.10.04. As viewed from Peterborough, Cambs.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Rock Pipits at Prior's Fen

I had an expedition to Prior's Fen this morning. The highlights were:
Rock Pipit, 2
Pink-footed Geese, 45,
Saker, 1, massive bird hunting the abundant wildfowl,
Jack Snipe, 1
Snipe, 7,
Dunlin, 7,
Ruff, 6,
Redshank, 1
Pintail, 2
Brambling, 2 over
Also there were hundreds of Wigeon, Golden Plover and Lapwings.
The Rock Pipits liked the flooded area under some old concrete sleepers pield up high - the closest to a rocky shoreline in the area. Though close, they were very hard to photograph, as they liked to hide behind the 'rocks'.
The Pink-feet were settled at the edge of one of the pits, but decided to depart north at about 8am, perhaps inspired the arrival of the monstrous Saker.

Rock Pipits, Prior's Fen, Cambs,16.10.04.

Rock Pipit, Prior's Fen, Cambs,16.10.04.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Another Wryneck photo

Wryneck, Langtoft, Lincolnshire, 10.10.04.
I found this photo and, though it was from a week ago and I've already posted a few pix, thought it would be nice to share it...
I agree with the wise words of my friend Steve 'Toadsnatcher' Dudley, that this was a particularly special bird. I have watched Wrynecks in many different countries since 1980. I've seen them hopping around in people's gardens in France and Italy and Spain, and found a few nests in Japan (complete with begging young). But I've never enjoyed such a confiding individual, which just got on with the untroubled business of digging for ants. After refinding the bird at 7.30am, losing it again in the car-park, then stumbling upon it almost at my feet, I was hooked.
So, when I got the opportunity to return later in the day, I spent some time watching it in feeding action. When moving, it combined Green Woodpecker-like hops with a Chaffinch-like waddle, and was really prepared to get stuck-in Yaffle-style when it came to digging for its grub. Occasionally it was flay on the ground, reptile-style, and at other times held its tail up like a passerine. Some people came past at one stage with kite-driven skate-boards, and it just looked up, sat-up still and confidently thought: "I am invisible, half-hidden in the grass, and after all I am the colour of bark and lichen".
For more photos of this bird check out some of the websites on the right (Toadsnatcher, Bogbumper and The Natural Stone and the PBC gallery). The Natural Stone even goes as far as including a superb video of the Wryneck in action, which comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Who are you looking at?

The Natural History Museum, 9.10.04 (coming for cheese & onion crisps. Clothes: models' own)

Ultra-rare breeders

It is many birders' dream to rediscover an 'extinct' species. The recent media fuss over a purported Slender-billed Curlew at Minsmere, Suffolk, reflects this. In Bird Watching magazine's November issue, there is a special feature on some birders who have re-discovered 'lost' birds, such as the New Zealand Storm-petrel and India's Forest Owlet.
So, you can imagine my surprise and delight when, in London (9.10.04), I stumbled upon a large mother of an apparently-extinct species, crouching over her eggs, laid in a small scrape on the ground. These were the best images I could muster at the time, from a respectful distance, so as not to disturb the animals too much...

As I approached, one of the young was twitching as it hatched and the mother lent over to shield her vulnerable offspring.

The brightly-coloured male stood an anxious guard.

Little did either of the parents know, that lurking just a few metres away, twitching with patient anticipation behind a ridge, two mighty feathered predators were waiting to pounce on them and their offspring.

So much did the young Weedons like this 'moving' exhibit at the Natural History Museum, that we came back about four times to watch the parent Oviraptors and the hunting Velociraptors in the dinosaur exhibit's late Cretaceous reconstruction of the feathered beasties roaming our glorious planet. [My favourite is still the sleeping dinosaur as you leave the exhibit, ah, nostalgia...].

Monday, October 11, 2004

Whooper Swans

I managed to drag myself away from the Langtoft Wryneck (as well as the bosom of my family) for a while yesterday and headed down to Prior's Fen for an hour or so.
There had clearly been a bit of Sky Lark passage and the pits were full of wigeon (still largely in eclipse). The only waders apart from the hundreds of Lapwings and Golden Plovers and few snipe, were 2 Dunlin and 2 Redshank. I was rewarded with a nice male Merlin hunting Linnets and flushed a Jack Snipe (plus 8 Snipe) and watched a nice herd of 13 Whooper Swans, my first of this winter. Boy, were they nervous and soon left the area...

They spot me hundreds of yards away, while they are resting in a ploughed field with some gulls...

Then they take to the air and head half a mile north...

...and just to prove they really are Whoopers, here's a close-up of a couple of the birds.


My PBC area list grew by one at the weekend (now up to 204) with a marvellous Wryneck at Langtoft, Lincs (10.10.04). This motley (mottly) bunch are the best pix I could muster.

Check the tongue.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Office bird

You can recognise the second-floor office of Bird Watching magazine in Peterborough quite easily. It is the one with bird-feeders stuck to the windows, raining seed down to narrowly miss the people queuing at the cashpoint of the Lloyds TSB below.
On these feeders we have recorded a grand total of four species, namely: House Sparrow, Blue Tit, Robin and Great Tit. As far as we know, no other species has yet visited our windows for grub.
Here is a male Blue Tit (check out the extensive white forehead) coming for a wee snackette today (8.10.04). Please excuse the glare from the window. The photo was taken from within on macro-mode (not digiscoped).

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Spanish wildlife

Once more, I have been guiding with the Company of Whales across the Bay of Biscay on the Pride of Bilbao ferry. Despite the windy conditions, we still mustered about 20 Fin Whales, a few hundred Common Dolphins, half-a-dozen Sabine's Gulls and even a Short-eared Owl out at sea. For a full listing of what we saw, check out
We always get a few hours in Spain, and head up to the hill above the port of Santurtzi for a a bit of quality wildlife watching. This time the weather was very good, bringing out losts of butterflies (including good numbers of Adonis Blues) and quite a few praying mantids. We watched a pair of these whoppers in an exciting mating sequence, from first acquaintance to mating – though we couldn't wait for the eventual, inevitable, reputed devouring of the male by the female...
Here are some of the best goodies from the hill walk. All photos are from 4.10.04.

Goldfinches were out in good numbers, with a flock of 200 doing the rounds. This bird is a male (I believe) feeding on a sea holly species (I think).

Butterflies included this continental-race Speckled Wood (more orangey yellow than the UK race)...

...and this worn male Adonis Blue (one of dozens on the hill).

We also found this massive 'horsefly' the size of a large hornet. Boy did that have some mean-looking eating apparatus!

We encountered good numbers of praying mantids.

Here, a male (brown and on the right) mantis approaches a female, with one intent, mating. Slowly he creeps up on her in the manner practised by chameleons and mantids, a sort of rocking motion – two rocks forward one rock back – pretending to be a stick blowing in the wind.

As he gets nearer, his front foot touches her rear one, and she looks round, seemingly startled, as only mantids can. He continues rocking closer. As an extra invitation, she starts to flatten herself on the rock-face, getting a tight grip with her clasping forelimbs.

In an instant, he leaps onto her back, facing the wrong way and, in a blink, turns round to grasp her in a mating position.

Finally he moves his abdomen round and under to join in the mating position. And there we leave them to it... Bon appetit!
"Classic intercourse!" as Alan Partridge would say and, as I would say, a classic piece of Weedon's World of Nature action!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Sparrowhawk eats sparrow shock

A shout came from below: "Mike, I think we've got a Sparrowhawk in the garden under the rose hedge." I quickly extracted myself from the bath and, wrapped in a towel, confirmed the ID from an upstairs window. One quick dash later, and I was digiscoping through the kitchen window. This beautiful bird (I believe its a young male), was feeding on a young male House Sparrow. After a few minutes, it picked the bird up in its talons and flew off, but not before the Weedon family had had a good eyeful.
All photos digiscoped from our Peterborough garden, 6.10.04.