Big Garden Birdwatch 2010

I can’t believe it’s a year since the last Big Garden Birdwatch! Not a super-exciting tally this morning, but I still managed a couple of bullfinches, which is always nice. Here’s the full list for the hour…

Great Tit – 4
Blue Tit – 3
Blackbird – 1
Collared Dove – 1
Woodpigeon – 1
Magpie – 3
Jackdaw – 8
Bullfinch – 2
House Sparrow – 1
Robin – 2

No long-tailed tit, dunnock or coal tit, but otherwise pretty much what I expected. House sparrows were once only very rarely seen in my garden, but recently a male has taken residence here, often using the tops of bushes and next door’s guttering as a singing perch.

Finches are also very rarely seen in the garden, and it’s quite unusual to see goldfnch, chaffinch or greenfinch, although bullfinches pass through fairly regularly but rarely use the feeders. I think this lack of finches is due to the fact I don’t encourage spilt seed or any ground-feeding, due to cats, and the feeders are high up in a tree where tits are much more likely to find them. Saying that greenfinches and chaffinches do very occasionally use the peanut feeder – I wonder if it’s just there’s some more suitable feeding stations for them in nearby gardens.

The great spotted woodpecker that used to make several visits to the fat cake every day hasn’t been seen for ages, in fact I’m not sure I even saw it once last year, and the goldcrest that was making forays into the garden at the time of the last BGBW was only a temporary visitor.

Don’t forget you’ve still got all weekend to do the BGBW – follow the link at the start of this blog post for more details.

A morning at the Longshaw feeders…

Yesterday I had a trip to the Longshaw Estate via Padley Gorge, to stake out the feeders for a bit for the common redpolls that have been seen there. Confusingly, common redpolls really aren’t that common at all in Britain, and so to avoid confusion I’ll use their alternative name of mealy redpoll for the rest of this report!

The feeders housed the usual stuff, including siskins (Longshaw’s a reliable place to see them in good numbers all year round), greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, nuthatch, and coal, blue and great tits. A couple of treecreepers were also slinking around the tree trunks. Visiting the feeders were a good few lesser redpoll, but squinting through them (between passing cafe patrons and ramblers sending them flittering away to safety) failed to produce the frosty plumage of the mealies. This one below did get me wondering due to its rather pale white wing bars, and its rather robust appearance compared to many of the lessers around, but on reflection is way too brown to be a mealy.

Lesser Redpoll

But my patience was rewarded with one good bird, with a single brambling making an appearance with the chaffinches, allowing one hasty (and terrible) photo before being scared off by the aforementioned cafe patrons (how dare people want to use footpaths while I’m scanning through finches, eh?!)…

Brambling (record shot)

…and of course the lesser redpolls and siskins posed for some nice photos, with a shaft of bright sunlight even making an appearance at one point.

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll and Siskin

Siskin

Lesser Redpoll

Elsewhere on the estate 3 ravens cronked overhead, providing a nice year tick, and a dipper was perched on a fence by the stream on the footpath leading from the B6521. Padley Gorge was its usual quiet self for this time of year (very different to the redstart/flycatcher/warbler-filled joy it becomes in Spring) but still turned up a singing goldcrest and a sparrowhawk.

And the mealies? Well apparently they were showing well in the car park while I was staking out the feeders all morning. Typical, eh?! Maybe next time…

Lesser Spotted, spotted.

I’ve just had a quick look at Beeley Wood, and was lucky to very quickly stumble upon a tit flock containing a lesser spotted woodpecker, not far from the Beeley Wood Lane entrance of the wood. A beautiful bird – sadly it wouldn’t stay still or near enough for a decent photo, and this is the best I could come up with…

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (record shot!)

Crap photo, great bird! Also around were a couple of nuthatches and at least one treecreeper.

EDIT – The SBSG website is reporting a chuffin’ BITTERN at Old Wheel Dam this morning! A lesson there – I really should get out of bed and work my patch a bit more often, shouldn’t I?!

Swanning around…

This morning, when the alarm went off at 6.45 I questioned my own sanity. The wind and rain were lashing at the windows, and a slight ache from a couple of pints at a family birthday party on Friday night was niggling at my head. I had an hour and a half journey, on three modes of public transport, to a damp field on the outskirts of Mexborough to look forward to… what was I thinking?!

You’ve probably guessed the reasons were birdwatching-related – I was off to see a pair of Bewick’s Swans that have taken quite a shine to a single field on Sticking Hill near Manvers, where they’ve stayed since Christmas Eve. And sure enough they were there waiting for me this morning – a local rarity and the first lifer of 2010.

Bewick's Swans (record shot)

A trip to Old Moor, meeting up with Dave Simmonite, followed, and good birds were everywhere despite the drizzle and still-icy conditions. A whooper swan at Wath Ings, along with the usual mute swans, completed the swan triumvirate, and other wildfowl around included goldeneye, goosander, wigeon, teal, pochard, shoveler and a single pintail. From the “Tree Sparrow Farm” viewing screen I picked up a year tick in the form of, um, tree sparrow, and another in yellowhammer, many of which were feeding on the stubble there.

The birds kept on coming with a distant, but showy green woodpecker, an overwintering green sandpiper by the Field Pool Hide, a wonderful hunting barn owl, and a water rail scurrying through the reeds at Wath Ings, plus slightly more mundane year ticks in the form of linnet and stock dove.

A brilliant day in all – well worth dragging myself out of bed for!

A whopping 54 species seen today, with 11 year ticks. Full list below, year ticks in bold.

Continue reading Swanning around…

A snowy walk and an urban peregrine…

High Bradfield

Yesterday I had a nice, freezing walk from High Bradfield to Wharncliffe Side. Highlights of the walk included a large group of around 100 red grouse near Cowell Flat, a flock of 46 crossbill and an overhead buzzard at Wigtwizzle, and a large flock of around 50 siskin, two goldcrest, a nuthatch and 3 goosander at Broomhead Reservoir. Very cold, but a good old walk!

Agden Side Road

Today I had a bit of a walk round town on my lunch hour and was lucky enough to find one of these…

Peregrine

Wintry urban birding…

I didn’t want to do an “it’s snowing!” post, as I’m sure everyone’s noticed… however the cold snap has meant some good urban birding opportunities this last week. Winter thrushes seem to be everywhere at the moment, for example, everywhere you look there seems to be a few redwing and fieldfare around, either munching berries or “tseeeping” or chuckling overhead. Today I had a look round Sheffield Centre for the peregrines that keep being reported (no sign, but it’s my mission to see one before the month’s out…), and found a nice flock of redwings, with a few fieldfares mixed in, on Carver Street.

Redwing

The cold weather’s also meant a large gathering of gulls has appeared on the tin roofs opposite Mecca Bingo on Penistone Road. The river is probably the only unfrozen piece of water, so it’s probably no surprise it’s attracting more birds than usual.

I first went down yesterday due to reports of an adult yellow-legged gull there, which would have been a nice addition to the yearlist! However I couldn’t find it, among the hundreds of black-headed gulls, and smaller numbers of common gull, herring gull, lesser black-backed gull and great black-backed gull.

This blog may sometimes give a false impression I know what I’m talking about, but gulls really make me realise I don’t! I saw the fella below (on the right), with a clean head that made me initially think 1st winter YLG. However its size was obviously deceptive, as the good people of Birdforum let me know I actually had a 1st winter GBBG. Ooops!

Great Black-backed Gull.

The gull in the middle of the shot here also made be wonder about YLG, due to its very clean head making it stand out among the herrings. However one thing was missing, and that was yellow-legs! Also the “mirrors” on the wings are large, pointing well towards its true identity of herring gull, albeit one with a whiter head than you’d expect at this time of year.

Here Come The Gulls...

So no rare gulls, but a very educational squint at the more common species, and an added bonus was a female goosander bobbing past on the river, which is a very nice lunchtime tick indeed.

New toys and interesting ducks…

Today I took a couple of new toys for a spin, and found a fantastic new birding spot in the shape of the Calder Wetlands near Wakefield.

The first of the toys in question was a Cley Spy Mulepack, which I got for Christmas from Laura. It’s a tripod carrier/backpack, which means carrying the tripod and scope is made very easy and keeps hands free for using binoculars and cameras. To be honest lugging tripods around is one of my least favourite aspects of birding, and on many occasions I’ve left the scope at home and regretted it, and this is a comfortable solution that works a treat. Not cheap, but well recommended.

The second toy was a a brand new pair of Opticron Imagic BGA SE binoculars. My trusty Bushnell H2os have gone wonky, and as I was going to replace them soon with better bins anyway, I thought I’d bring the purchase forward. They really are great bins for the money (I got them for £340) – great optics, bright image, good depth of field, great eye relief for glasses wearers like myself, and good performance even in lower light levels. Thoroughly recommended!

And on to the birding… I started out at Calder Wetlands, and soon got on to our old friend the ferruginous duck, which has relocated from Pugney’s. It was very easy to find on the only ice-free patch of water on the lake behind the Swan & Cygnet pub. Sadly the ring-necked duck that has been there in recent days seems to have moved on.

Calder Wetlands

Aythyas...

A walk up and down the Calder itself, in the vain hope of finding the smew that has been hanging round recently, made for a great hour of birding nontheless, with two red-breasted merganser on the river, great views of kingfishers, lots of goldeneye and goosander, grey wagtails, a redshank, and a low-flying sparrowhawk, as well as a small number of chuckling fieldfare in the trees.

Red-breasted Merganser

Pugney’s didn’t turn up too much, bar a fox hunting on the ice from the nature reserve hide, and a heard-only water rail which sadly didn’t show itself (which I’m not counting this year – only seen birds count, however much they annoy me!). Cetti’s warbler and bittern had both been seen this morning, but not by me! However one interesting bird there was the weird hybrid goose-duck thing below. Anyone want to take a guess at parentage?!

Weirdo...

Finally we made a trip to Millfield Lagoons, on the other side of the Calder, which were (as we expected) completely frozen. However as we got there I got a tip off via text from Dave Simmonite (cheers fella!) saying his pager had just beeped with news that the smew was hanging around the sewage works at Horbury. We weren’t a hundred percent sure where the sewage works were, but knew which direction to head, so marched up the river until we finally traced the bird, hanging round with a particularly skittish party of goldeneye. Despite them taking off a couple of times, they kept landing on the river and we got two very good views of the smew. Smews are one of my favourite birds, and one I didn’t get chance to catch up with in 2009.

Smew (record shot)

So a brilliant day to play with my new toys, and just in time if the snowy forecast for the next few days are anything to go by… 51 species seen over the course of the day, with 20 year ticks (don’t you love January?!). Full list below, year ticks in bold…
Continue reading New toys and interesting ducks…