Operation Avocet!

Yes, I have remembered the birding tasks I set myself earlier in the year, and today I took a brief trip to Blacktoft Sands RSPB to get one of the birds on the list – avocets.

To be honest, this was a pretty easy one. The first two hides had good amounts of black-tailed godwits, dunlins, ruffs and redshanks, but no signs of avocets. I was starting to wonder how easy they’d be to find, but I needn’t had feared as the third hide along had scores of them. And just as I focused my binoculars for a better look, they scattered, due to two marsh harriers swooping menacingly across the sky. Avocets and marsh harriers in the same field of view? Doesn’t get much better.

Watching for a while longer, I was lucky enough to see the marsh harriers acrobatically exchanging food midair, and a pair of avocets defending their fluffy chicks from herons and black-headed gulls which were keeping an ominous watch. I also got a great view of some reed warblers, a bird which doesn’t give great views very easily.

Sadly I missed out on some of Blacktoft’s other star attractions – bitterns and bearded tits – but I think the avocets and marsh harriers more than made up for it!

We had a brief trip to Hornsea afterwards too, and watched cormorants flying overhead, and common terns plunge diving into the sea.

Nightjars

Last night was a good, clear night, so Laura and I went to find nightjars at Agden.

We took a stroll up and down Agden Side Road just after 9pm, which was a beautiful sight as the sun set behind the peaks. A kestrel hunted in the dusk, grouse chuckled in the distance, bats flittered overhead, and a stoat ran across the road in front of us.

Then, after about twenty minutes, the unmistakable sound of a churring male nightjar. It was coming from quite a way off, and we didn’t see the bird, but the oddly mechanical-sounding noise must surely be one of the most evocative sounds in nature as it drifts through the dusk. Hopefully a return visit before they fly off for the winter will give us a glimpse of one of these elusive birds.

Garden update

The long-tailed tits are now very frequent visitors to the feeders, and often arrive with a coal tit. On Monday, we fitted a hanging bird bath in the tree, and as we did so, the long tailed tits landed brazenly within inches from our faces!

A young robin (just acquiring its adult plumage) is also now a frequent visitor to the fat feeder, and I’ve seen a blackcap twice, on the wall by the kitchen window. At least three magpies are regular visitors to the feeders, including the tail-less one, and I regularly see jays around the garden, but not yet in it.

Yesterday we saw a large blue dragonfly, which I believe was an Emperor Dragonfly, flittering around the garden.

Oxfordshire floods

The weekend before last, we went to visit my brother and his girlfriend in Witney, Oxfordshire. The Saturday was a proper summer’s day (for once), and we spent the evening sat at the bottom of his garden, eating a curry and playing poker.

At the bottom of their garden is the river Windrush, and as the night wore on we fed a swan that swam up to see us, and shone a torch into the water to look at the crayfish that were snapping just below the surface.

As you can see from the picture above, a lot changed in the course of a week, and now their garden is the river Windrush. You can just see the decking we were sat on at the bottom of the garden, where the river usually ends. Luckily they’re safe and the house is unscathed, but others around them haven’t been so fortunate.

More rain

My heart sank yesterday when I saw the news that more rain is on they way for the weekend. It looks like it won’t be at its worst round our way, but enough to dampen things down after a promising week (why does the best weather happen when you’re in the office?). At least the new Harry Potter’s out to distract me from the gloom…

Still no sign of the woodpecker since the floods, which is a great shame. The feeders are now being frequented by long-tailed tits, though, that turn up in flocks and bubble and trill while fluttering around the trees. We also have a new visitor, a magpie with no tail.

Our cat brought back an unexpected “present” yesterday – a mole. I’ve no idea where she found it. Although it’s horrifying when your pet brings their kills back to show you, at least you can get a gage on what mammals are around (wood mouse and shrews have also been found on the doorstep). I still wish she wouldn’t, though…

June…

It was a bit of a washout wasn’t it? I don’t think anyone really saw those floods coming, at quite the scale that they did. We’ve been lucky where we are, bar power cuts we were largely unaffected. Unfortunately one casualty seems to be our woodpecker, which we haven’t seen since the first load of rain. Hopefully she’s just found a birdfeeder she prefers elsewhere, and nothing untoward happened to her in the deluge.

My “patch” seems to be pretty much unscathed, although the river’s got a lot more detritus in it and some of the softer paths have channels carved in then where the floodwater flowed. A grey tidemark on the vegetation round the banks shows how high the water reached, and it’s amazing everything has settled down as much as it has.

It sounds like Old Moor hasn’t fared quite so well. I was due to volunteer at the “Big Green Birthday” on the 7th July, but the reserve was hit very badly by the floods and events were called off. The floods made the whole reserve one massive lake, and the water even got into some of the tree sparrow nests on poles. It sounds like the damage to breeding birds has been huge, and recent structural improvements to hides, ramps and paths have been destroyed.

The reserve’s open again at the weekend, and I’m hoping things are getting back to normal.