More tawnies

Last night I got home at around 12:30 from a few pints in town, to hear a tawny owl “kee-ick!”ing up the garden either actually in our garden or the one behind. Another was replying some way off. I loitered for a few minutes but didn’t get a glimpse of one.

At around 5am I was woken again by the same noise outside the bedroom window, followed by the alarm calls of suddenly awakened wrens and robins. I blearily wandered to the window and saw the culprit sat on the telegraph pole opposite, in exactly the same position as the one a couple of weeks ago. Worth an early morning wake up call for!

Patch update 29/07/08

A rainbow over the Loxley Valley

Just a quick one tonight – dipper at the Fisheries (which I caught up with again at Stacey Bank); sparrowhawk near Black Lane with a brief view of a peeping kingfisher; a couple of chiffchaff showing well near the Fisheries; stock dove at Low Matlock Lane.

At the Hepworth site there was a roughly pigeon-sized bird on one of the roofs with its back to me that proved impossible to identify with any certainty. Kestrel? Sparrowhawk? Little Owl? Here’s a really rubbish photo if anyone wants to have a stab…

Rubbish photo of a mystery bird

EDIT – general consensus on BirdForum was that it was a kestrel, which was my first thought in the field.

More scorchers

Okay, last week wasn’t a scorcher after all, at least compared to yesterday and today!

Yesterday (Saturday) I had a walk round Agden, Agden Side and Cowell Flat. Not too much to report at all, and no pictures taken, the only highlights being a pair of hunting kestrels at Cowell Flat, and at least two (possibly three) common whitethroat at Agden Side.

Today I had a walk round my usual patch, plus Loxley Chase, Wadsley Common and Loxley Common.

The usual patch didn’t bring up much bird-wise, the only vague highlights being a grey wagtail at the Hepworth site and the grey heron below at Old Wheel Dam, plus new clutches of moorhen chicks at the pond near Black Lane (1 chick) and at Stacey Bank (4 chicks).

Grey Heron

The biggest highlights were the dragonflies which were lapping up the sunshine. I saw three species, and am hopeless on dragonfly ids, but I’m pretty sure one was a broad-bodied chaser at Old Wheel Dam, sitting on a stem by the reeds and darting out and returning like a minature flycatcher. The others were a hawker of some species, also at Old Wheel Dam, which I didn’t see long enough to get a clear enough id, and a large reddish brown dragonfly at the Fisheries I’m fairly sure was a brown hawker (but not 100% sure). Sadly they were all too far away for photos.

Loxley Chase

Elsewhere, highlights included a kestrel perched on telegraph wires on Loxley Road, loads of rooks at Loxley Chase (which I hardly ever see a short distance away on my usual patch), a common whitethroat near Hillsborough Golf Course, and two yellowhammers and two bullfinches at Wadsley Common. On the way back I got great views of a blackcap opposite the house.

Rooks
Rooks

Common Whitethroat
Whitethroat

Yellowhammer
Yellowhammer

Gatekeeper
Gatekeeper

Meadow Brown
Meadow Brown

A scorcher

An actual, bona fide summer’s day today, and by a fluke I’d got today booked off work as a day’s leave. So I had a pleasant walk around Agden and Dale Dike reservoirs, and Agden Side.

Things have gone very quiet now – it doesn’t seem long at all since Agden Side was alive with singing tree pipits, wrens and willow warblers, but now it’s almost completely silent, save for the grasshoppers and the odd twitterings from goldfinches and meadow pipits.

Elsewhere there were very few birding highlights. A spotted flycatcher was at Agden – the patch of conifers near the entrance on Smallfield Lane is a very reliable spot for them – and a kingfisher was at Dale Dike (that’s four I’ve spotted in four days now!). Dale Dike’s also got a few mallard ducklings on it, showing the breeding season is still under way, at least for a few birds.

The best bit of birding of the whole day was at the section of path near Windy Bank where someone hangs birdfeeders. Here there were several jays, coal tits, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, grey squirrels and a yellowy juvenile willow warbler (making me think wood warbler for a brief moment or two). A kestrel flew overhead, and a buzzard could be heard mewing somewhere above. The coal tits proved to be the most photogenic, including the adorable bundle of fluff below.

Coal Tit juvenile

Elsewhere, on the public bridleway between Agden and Dale Dike, a small party of four squabbling wrens were too busy sorting out their territories to take any notice of me, and proved to be uncharacteristically photogenic. [EDIT – it has been pointed out to me that these birds pictured were actually recently fledged juveniles, and so won’t have been doing anything territorial at all.]

Wren

Wren

Wren

And finally a pic of a speckled wood – I tried for ages to take a photo of a red admiral that was flitting about, but sadly it wouldn’t settle on anything for long enough, but this fella made up for it.

Speckled Wood

Patch update 20/07/08

Very quick walk today – not much around, and I was starting to think I wouldn’t get anything notable, but two cheerful peeps alerted me to a kingfisher flying down the river not far from the western end of Black Lane. At least there’s one bird that seems easier to find at this time of year!

Only other birds of note were three grey wagtails, including a juvenile, at Stacey Bank; a bullfinch at the same location as the kingfisher; and a single drake tufted duck at Old Wheel Dam.

Longshaw Estate and Blackburn Meadows

Two very different places visited today!

I started the day with a trip to Padley Gorge and the Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire. It’s a crime I’ve never been here before, as it’s very easy to get to by train, being practically adjascent to Grindleford Station.

Padley Gorge

I was way too late in the year for Padley Gorge’s star species. If I’d have gone in May I’d have been surrounded by pied flycatchers, redstarts, wood warblers and tree pipits. However, at this time of year the wood is pretty much silent, and even when you do hear birds it’s near impossible to see them in the fully-leaved trees. At one point a mixed tit flock, with at least great tit, long-tailed tit, nuthatch and goldcrest could be heard mere metres away, but I couldn’t even get a glimpse of the birds in question!

I won’t be making the same mistake next year, and will visit a lot earlier. I did manage to see a dipper and grey heron on the stream, but that’s about as much as I got.

On to the Longshaw Estate, and I got a good mix of birds, including a singing skylark, a few jays, a green woodpecker yaffling in the distance, several chiffchaffs (including a juvenile cavorting near my head), hirundines and swifts and the common finches. There was also a vole (not sure of species) seen on the grass which sadly scarpered before I got chance to take a picture.

At the Longshaw visitors’ centre, there were plenty of birds on the feeders including goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches (including some juveniles), blue and great tits, a nuthatch, and best of all these siskins. I tend to think of siskins as winter birds, and it’s great to see them in the summer. I believe the second photo shows a juvenile siskin (the bottom photo also shows a juvenile chaffinch).

Siskin

Siskin

Chaffinch and Siskin

When I got back to Sheffield, I decided I didn’t really fancy going straight home and instead took a tram out to Meadowhall, and then a walk up Tinsley Canal and on to Blackburn Meadows.

Blackburn Meadows nature reserve

There wasn’t too much to see except for some singing reed buntings, a couple of little grebes, several bullfinches and a grey heron, but it really is a haven on the Sheffield/Rotherham border. The only issue I have is with the hides there. The first one today was dark, cold, cobwebby and with no seats and not very inviting at all, and the second – well the shrieking teenage voices coming from within didn’t make me feel much like venturing inside. The viewing screen as you enter the reserve is superb, and you wonder if it would better to get rid of the hides all together and replace them with more of these.

Adding to the annoyance was some kid on an off-road motorbike entering the reserve and proceeded to razz round it just as I was leaving. Idiot.

But, walking back to Meadowhall I got the best birds of the day. First not one but two kingfishers – the first flew down the canal, and the second I heard calling from the river and got there in time to see it take off from a branch and out of sight.

And secondly, I saw a bird of prey overhead near the Meadowhall South tram stop, which I first took to be a sparrowhawk. Then I realised the flight and shape was wrong and I was actually seeing a peregrine! And suddenly it was joined by a second bird, a rather raggedy individual I imagine was a molting adult. It’s always great to see urban peregrines, and even better to see two at once!

Spring birding wishlist update

Spring is over and summer well into full swing (although you wouldn’t know it looking out of the window today), and my Spring birding wishlist has ended up with a respectable 8/10. As a reminder the birds were:

Redstart – found at the abandoned farm buildings at Rocher Head.
Woodcock – at least two seen on the SBSG nightjar walk.
Spotted Flycatcher – found by accident in the Loxley Valley, and several seen at Agden since.
Cuckoo – heard at Wharncliffe Heath, but sadly no sightings.
Grasshopper Warbler – heard at Redmires, but sadly no sightings.
Barn Owl – Cheat! Seen at Blacktoft Sands.
Lesser Whitethroat – Heard on two occasions since at Old Moor.
Wood Warbler – found at Wyming Brook on a number of occasions.

The two I didn’t get were whinchat (which I thought would be an easy one at Agden Side) and yellow wagtail. The latter I’m going to leave as the one that got away, as I never got round to visiting eastern Sheffield which is the only place round here I was likely to find one.

Whinchat, however, I’m refusing to give up on, and I’m still hoping to see one before they all disappear again. If anyone knows any reliable sites let ke know…

Also an unforgivable omission from my yearlist is pied flycatcher, as a trip across to Padley Gorge earlier in the Spring would have been a pretty much guaranteed certainty. So my main mission over the next few days is to find a pied fly, despite the fact they’ll be near impossible to find now the trees are in full leaf and they’re quiet after breeding. Wish me luck!