Birding goals for the spring update!

If anyone had thought I’d been a bit quiet on my birding goals for the Spring, I’ve actually been pretty busy getting some of my birding wishlist over the last few days.

Last Tuesday I had a trip to Agden Side to find whinchats, and failed miserably, although bizarrely did find one of their rarer (in Sheffield at least) relatives – a stunning male stonechat!

On Friday night I went to Wyming Brook to find wood warblers, with much better success. I soon heard one singing, but out of sight, in a tree right above my head. I was just thinking this would probably have to be a “heard but not seen tick”, when I came across two in a tree a short distance away, one of them happily flycatching just to demonstrate its yellow chest and prove it wasn’t a willow warbler!

Yesterday morning I had a return to Agden Side, and again failed to find a whinchat, although I did for once manage to see a tree pipit there, rather than just hear them. I walked back through Rocher Head for much better success with another on my wishlist. I walked down the path and got to the derelict barn, and on some abandoned farm equipment got a glimpse of a bird which seemed to be shivering a red tail, but I didn’t get a good look before it darted into trees. I waited for a while and my patience paid off as I was rewarded with great views of a male redstart (thanks to Roger for the tip of the area!). There was also another singing a bit further on.

Other highlights from yesterday included 3 x common sandpiper and 3 x great spotted woodpecker at Agden Reservoir; 3 x displaying snipe, 1 x tree pipit, 10 x linnet, 7 x lapwing, 2 x curlew and 16 x rook at Rocher Head; a tawny owl flying across the path in broad daylight at Rocher End Plantation.

So my birding goals for Spring stand as follows:

Redstart – found at Rocher Head
Whinchat – searched for at Agden Side but not found yet!
Woodcock – quick look at Redmires but not found.
Spotted Flycatcher – found by accident in the Loxley Valley.
Cuckoo – heard at Wharncliffe Heath, but I’d still like to see one…
Grasshopper Warbler – not found yet. Could be tricky…
Barn Owl – the only non-migrant on this list, could be the trickiest of the lot…
Yellow Wagtail – not found yet. May have to travel to the East of the city to find one.
Wood Warbler – found at Wyming Brook.

Plus there’s a good few migrants not on the list I still need to find, including pied flycatcher, common tern, little egret, nightjar and hobby… it’s going to be a busy old June!

Kaye Meadow

It seems to me quite interesting that in the rush for environmentalism in recent years there are increasing instances where one green initiative ends up completely at odds with another, and demonstrates that there’s no such thing as one truly unified action plan to conserve the environment. Examples include wind farms vs bird protection, the Severn Barrage vs wetland habitat conservation, and biofuels vs biologically diverse farmland.

In Sheffield here’s an interesting one – allotments vs habitat conservation. The people of Oughtibridge have been campaigning for more allotment space, which of course is a good thing to produce carbon-neutral food and promote healthy eating. The problem is the allotments are earmarked to be put on Kaye Meadow – an important local habitat for butterflies, bats and voles. See the news story in the Sheffield Star.

The part that particularly bothers me is this:

“The plans have been pushed through and the bulldozers are due to move on site at the end of May.”

Surely illegal during the breeding season, as it will undoubtedly kill any nesting birds?

The weekend

On Saturday I went for a walk around the tetrad I’m surveying for the Sheffield Bird Study Group (tetrad SK28Z). It was a bit of a dingy day, and there wasn’t too much about, but still managed to see a couple of highlights. Including:

  • A reed bunting on Rowell Lane, just outside the tetrad. The first I’ve seen on my patch this year.
  • A mute swan on Old Wheel Dam – the first I’ve ever seen there. Also a family of Canada geese goslings, and the usual drake teal.
  • Lapwings still present at Old Wheel Farm, and a great spotted woodpecker and sparrowhawk nearby.
  • More lapwings and another great spotted woodpecker near Dungworth Green.
  • A little owl perched on a wall on Hill Top Lane.
  • Singing skylarks and whitethroat on Riggs High Road.

I had a quick walk up to Stacey Bank afterwards, and saw a couple of dippers on the river, and a curlew on the way back down Loxley Road.

On Sunday I went for a walk up to Loxley and Wadsley Commons. This is a great local area much-neglected by me, and in a short time I got linnets, yellowhammers, bullfinches, great spotted woodpeckers and jays.

A problem the area seems to suffer from is one of my pet hates – idiots on off-road motorbikes. Despite this being illegal, it’s sadly not uncommon in several nearby areas to find yourself having to make way to noisy bikes tearing past on public footpaths, and judging by my walk yesterday this seems to be something Loxley Common is used for. I really can’t see the appeal of razzing up footpaths at about eight miles an hour on crap motorcycles, and I can’t help thinking part of the appeal is to actively piss off other people.

Yesterday one of them was an overweight man, probably mid twenties, on what was obviously a child-sized motorbike. When he saw me coming towards him, he sheepishly turned back – I hope that on my approach he got a sudden moment of clarity and realised what an utter buffoon he looked like!

Finally yesterday ended on a bit of a sad note, as Laura and I found one of the neighbourhood badgers dead by the side of the road not far from the house. My guess is that it had been hit by a car and crawled into the undergrowth and died. Hopefully we’ll still get visits from them later in the summer.

Patch update 15/05/08

I went for a walk last night on the Loxley Valley, highlights including:

  • Pair of lapwing at Old Wheel Farm, the male displaying.
  • Sparrowhawk over Old Wheel Dam area.
  • Singing bullfinches heard at Old Wheel Dam.
  • Male blackcap on the path between the bowling green and Rowell Bridge.
  • Singing garden warbler (a year tick), blackcap, chiffchaff and willow warbler on path south of river, plus an agitated great spotted woodpecker.

No signs of any spotted flycatcher though!

Northumberland

I’ve spent the last few days in glorious sunshine in Northumberland, staying in Beadnell and having trips to Seahouses, the Farne Islands, Bamburgh and Low-Newton-by-the-Sea. Lots of birds were seen! As I visited most sites more than once, the visits merge into one a bit, so I’ll do this blog post site-by-site rather than chronologically.

Beadnell

 

We stayed in a B&B a fifteen minute walk from the centre of Beadnell. The B&B itself was a haven for birds, with the grounds and vicinty full of chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, robins, whitethroats, swallows, house and tree sparrows, yellowhammers, rooks, robins and skylarks among others. We also got two visits from a weasel. The B&B’s dining room had a TV in the corner showing live footage from a nestbox camera, where a tree sparrow was sat on her eggs.

Beadnell itself is great, with half being glorious sandy beaches, and the other rocks that were great for picking out waders. Over a few visits I saw a mix of birds including eiders, shelducks, turnstones, oystercatchers, ringed plovers, curlews, cormorants, arctic terns, a little gull, nesting sand martins, wheatears, rock pipits, meadow pipits, skylarks, linnets and stonechats. Most exciting of all, further up the beach is a fenced-off arctic tern colony (pictured above), which also houses a smaller number of little terns. These are quite easy to pick out, as the arctic terns (not themselves the largest birds in the world) absolutely dwarf them!

A grey seal could also be seen bobbing about in the water one morning.

Seahouses

Seahouses is the busying place on the part of the coast we were one, as it’s the gateway to the Farne Islands and attract a lot of tourists. However good stuff can still be found, with eiders, oystercatchers and cormorants among the birds around as we waited for the boat to the Farnes. Whilst waiting I had a go at digiscoping some very obliging eiders.

The Farne Islands

The main desitination of the trip! On the boat out we saw guillemots, gannets, puffins, eiders, cormorants, arctic terns and shags all around us, and as we got to the islands we were met by the breathtaking sight of thousands of guillemots, shags and kittiwakes nesting on the cliffs, and hundreds of grey seals basking on the rocks.

We landed on the islands, and all the above species (with the exception of gannets) could be found nesting, plus a few razorbills and a colony of sandwich terns (common terns also nest in small numbers, but I hadn’t got the time or skill to pick them out of the crowds of arctics!). It was thinner on the ground of puffins than last time we went, as they’re all in their burrows at the moment, but a good few were out and posing well.

Bamburgh

Bamburgh has yet another beautiful sandy beach, plus a ridiculously picturesque castle that make it look absolutely amazing. Birdy highlights here included lots of wheatears, linnets, meadow pipits, arctic terns, eiders, oystercatchers, and a large raft of common scoters out to sea.

Low-Newton-by-the-Sea

Last but not least (but sadly somewhere I completely forgot to take any photos) is Low Newton, which essentially has a fantastic beach, a nature reserve and a good pub. What more could you ever need? The nature reserve had lots of singing sedge warblers, plus greylag geese, teal, little grebes, tufted ducks and reed buntings. There were, as everywere, lots of eiders on the sea, along with grey herons, cormorants, oystercatchers, wheatears, stonechats, skylarks and grey partridge also in the area.

So plenty seen and a great time had!

Flycatcher, spotted

Sometimes birding is being at the right place at the right time – today I was walking down the path that leads from Wragg’s Bowling Green to Rowell Bridge, and saw a dipper flying over the river. So I decided to loiter on the footbridge on the other side of the road, and see if I could get a better look.

I didn’t see the dipper again, but instead got great views of a spotted flycatcher perched above the river! I didn’t think I’d find that one quite so easily…

Elsewhere the first babies have hatched at Old Wheel Dam, with families of four mallard ducklings, and three moorhen chicks. There was also a drake teal  – possibly the same one that seemed to live there last year?

Elsewhere a pair of bullfinches south of the river; a nuthatch showing well at Rowell Bridge; a swallow collecting mud at Low Matlock Lane, nine swifts circling above and at least two flying above Old Wheel Dam.

Another good Saturday

I tried writing this yesterday, but everything crashed half way through so second time lucky!

Yesterday was another brilliant Saturday, and perfect weather to get started on the BTO Breeding Bird Survey I’m undertaking on a grid square up in the Damflask/Ughill area. This is my patch for this if you were wondering, with my square in the centre (Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland)

 

I recorded 27 species in total along my route. Nothing too exciting, except for an excellent tree pipit in song flight on the path towards Ughill Wood, and a great spotted woodpecker at Damflask.

This is what I recorded and in what numbers:

Chaffinch – 19
Blackbird – 18
Wren – 16
Robin – 16
Nuthatch – 5
Magpie – 2
Dunnock – 5
Pheasant – 13
Great Tit – 15
Jackdaw – 8
Woodpigeon – 14
Carrion Crow – 13
Chiffchaff – 3
Goldcrest – 1
Mallard – 10
Feral/Hybrid Mallard – 7
Goldfinch – 10
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1
Song Thrush – 3
Blue Tit – 15
Swallow – 4
Willow Warbler – 5
Starling – 1
Pied Wagtail – 2
Tree Pipit – 1
Long-tailed Tit – 3
Curlew – 1

On the way back I walked down the Loxley Valley. I was greeted by the usual tree sparrows at the top of Stacey Lane, and at the bottom I got an unexpected year- and patch-tick in the form of a common sandpiper on the Damflask overflow pool at the bottom of the lane. Further on, a green woodpecker was yaffling somewhere nearby in the area of Old Wheel Dam, and there were swallows and a screaming swift over Old Wheel Farm.

I decided to take the path to the south of the river at Rowell Bride, which goes through shrubby grassland on the edge of the woods and is brilliant for finding warblers. Almost immediately I got great views of common whitethroat, and one of the birds that was on my Spring wish-list as two lesser whitethroats could be heard singing. Following the sound I even got a quick glimpse of one as it skulked through the shrubs. Goes to show it pays dividends to learn your birdsong properly!

In the afternoon we went to see Laura’s parents in Bollington in Cheshire, and we went for a walk. It’s a beautiful area, but, perhaps due to the time of day, there weren’t many birds to see. I did, however, see my first ducklings of the year – a trail of nine bundles of fluff following their mother.

Despite the drizzly end to the Bank Holiday Weekend, good weather is predicted next week, which will hopefully bode well for my trip to Northumberland and the Farne Islands at the weekend. Fingers crossed!