Rambling for a brambling…

On Saturday I braved the cold spell and trudged up to Wheata Wood for a wintry walk. My mission was to squint through the mixed feeding flock of finches and buntings to find a brambling or two. It was easy to find the flock in its usual place, flitting between the woodland edge and the adjacent fields and dry stone walls.

As before the main species was chaffinch, of which there were probably around 40 or so, with a good number of yellowhammers, with at least 15 present on Saturday morning.

Chaffinch Chaffinch Chaffinches in the snow Yellowhammers and Chaffinch Yellowhammers

Careful squinting also revealed the odd reed bunting among them, with at least one male and two females in the midst of the flock.

Reed Bunting

A couple of goldfinches were around, as well as at least one lesser redpoll calling overhead, but no signs of bramblings. However just as I was about to give up a passing walker told me she’d see two there a few days earlier, so I decided to hang around a bit longer. I managed to get into the heart of the feeding flock without flushing them, and after a long, freezing wait a rather smart brambling appeared right in front of me. I quietly got the camera from my man bag to get a shot, but sadly at this very moment I heard a loud yapping from my feet, and a tiny but annoying dog decided this was the moment to start getting affronted by presence… the brambling remained but flew high into the trees, meaning these were the best pics I got…

Brambling (record shot) Brambling (record shot) Brambling (record shot)

As well as the finches and buntings the fields also contained a couple of hundred woodpigeon, and a large flock of feral pigeons that probably numbered 150 or so, that kept taking flight as one and making a surprisingly loud clatter as they took off. A walk back through Greno Wood turned up loads of goldcrests (I counted at least 10), and a couple of redpoll.

This lunchtime I got a text from my mate Andy saying he’d found a flock of 110+ waxwings on Hanover Way, I went and joined him just in time to see them scarper our heads in a spectacular trilling flypast. We followed them back to Cemetery Avenue, where they spent some time scoffing berries, joining with another flock and reaching about 200 or so in number.

I borrowed a camcorder from work hoping to get some video footage of them, but in my haste got one with an almost-dead battery! The short video above is the best I could get… I may try again tomorrow (if I’m not snowed in!).

Three mornings on patch

I did three mornings in a row on the new patch last weekend. On Friday I had the day off work to wait for a BT engineer and some furniture (ah the joys of house moves…) but they weren’t scheduled to be here until after 12, so I got a morning to have a wander.

Nothing particularly unusual jumped out at me in Wheata Wood or Wharncliffe Wood, bar the now regular sightings of the likes of treecreeper, nuthatch, goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker and goldfinch. A walk on the Chase turned up three fieldfare and a couple of goldcrest bimbling about in the bracken, and a walk back through Greno Wood revealed a small flock of redpoll and a nice green woodpecker making its way up a silver birch.

Saturday was, ahem, slightly more interesting. Wheata had more of the same, with the 30+ chaffinch flock making an appearance, with a few yellowhammer mixed in. I got on to the Chase, as a bit of an afterthough because I almost missed it out, and immediately got on to two meadow pipits, that were uncharacteristically perched in a tree. Idly looking at these, out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of what gave the jizz almost of a small, pale bird of prey landing in a birch. I got onto it and my mind wibbled as I saw the strikingly pale grey body, black flicking tail, black wings and black mask of a GREAT GREY SHRIKE!!! Hands literally shaking I fumbled for the camera, and failed miserably to get a photo before it disappeared (almost in a puff of smoke) as shrikes are wont to do…

Sadly a search by me and a handful of other birders (sorry Andy and Dave!) failed to refind it – I hate single observer birds like this, as I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking I was being a stringy bastard here, seeing as it’s so soon into my new patch career. There’s even a tiny part of me that wonders if it was possible for me to turn any common species into an obvious shrike via the power of “wishful-thinkingovision” but nothing quite seems to fit (a midget, partially albino jay maybe?!)!

Although on paper it’s good habitat for a wintering GGS (open, small bushes, clumps of birches, goldcrests lurking in the bracken for the a quick snack…) I think the disturbance level there possibly rules out a long-stayer. And was it the homeyeri bird from Blacka Moor? I must admit my view was too brief to get it to subspecific level – lesson for us all here, don’t be so keen to reach for a crap record shot to the degree you don’t give the bird the best scrutiny it deserves.

While fruitlessly searching for the shrike, Andy at least got seven waxwings over, so some consolation hopefully!

Sunday was less dramatic, the highlight being a gorgeous fox nonchalantly trotting along the path in Wheata Wood in front of me. The Wheata finch/bunting flock also contained a reed bunting and had been joined by 10+ redpoll (I’m determined to find a brambling in there in the coming weeks…), and the Chase had a redpoll count of 17 and a goldcrest count of 6. But that was about it… no shrike! As I said the disturbance on the Chase is often fairly high due to passing joggers and dogwalkers, but on Sunday this was even worse due to shotguns banging away, presumably shooting game somewhere nearby, and the Chase swarming with landrovers-full of foxhounds. If I was a shrike I’d have pegged it too!

Will I carry on this rather obsessive patch-watching of the past couple of weekends, or will I go somewhere else this week… We’ll see!

Waxwings at last!

I managed to duck the showers this lunchtime and, apart from one brief splatter, managed to make the walk back to Ecclesall Road to look for the waxwings without getting wet. After a few laps of Cemetery Avenue I finally came across a flock of 20 or so in the tops of the trees, which were very jittery and didn’t stay long. Five arrived back after a while and loitered in a tall tree on Ecclesall Road, before heading in the direction of Collegiate Crescent.

Although this flock seems particularly flighty, there’s still loads of berries on Cemetery Avenue, so I’d wager they’ll be around for a few days yet (they’ve already been there since the 6th Nov).

This makes up for the 8 that were reported on Halifax Road this morning, which I probably passed on my way to work and didn’t notice!

I didn’t have chance to take any photos of the birds this lunchtime, but if you want to see some people getting some amazing close encounters with waxwings in Fair Isle then check out this link.

Still patchin’…

Yellowhammer

This weekend there’s been a particularly interesting great grey shrike at Blacka Moor, waxwings all over the place, some obliging Lapland buntings at Orgreave Lagoons and a red-crested pochard at Catcliffe Flash. These would have been a bunch of cracking yearticks (and one lifer…) just a bus ride or two away. But somehow I was content continuing to explore the new patch, spending most of Saturday and Sunday morning wending my way round the footpaths of Wheata Wood, Wharncliffe Wood and Wharncliffe Chase. Maybe it’s just the novelty of the new patch hasn’t worn off yet, or maybe last week’s Twitchers documentary has scared me off yearlisting! Either way it’s good to be finding birds a stonesthrow from the house, even if it’s nothing particularly rare.

The highlights include a few yellowhammer, a small flock of lesser redpoll, a smattering of redwing and fieldfare, a heard-only green woodpecker and good numbers of nuthatch and goldcrest. Nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s good to get a shot in the arm of local birding and forget the lists for a little bit. Will I travel further afield next weekend? We’ll see!

This lunchtime I braved the weather in my lunchbreak and made the 20 minute walk to Cemetery Avenue to see if I could find any waxwings. The avenue is lined with rowans and is still covered in thick blobs of juicy red berries, but there were no signs of any waxies. Then I found out why when checking the Internet when I got back – about half an hour before I arrived the flightly flock had seen one of its numbers meet its maker at the hands of a sparrowhawk, which I’m presuming sent the others packing!

See… the twitching gods are still against me! Perhaps it’s best to stick to patching after all…

New Patch

Sorry I’ve been quiet of late, I’ve got through the other side of house-moving, and have already had a couple of trips down to my new local patches of Greno Woods, Wheata Woods, Wharncliffe Wood and Wharncliffe Chase. I’m not sure exactly where I’m going to set my patch “boundaries”, but I’ll have a clearer idea after a few more explores!

My first trip was a foggy one, but here’s a couple of pictures. You get the idea…

Wheata Wood

Wharncliffe Chase

November’s probably not the best part of the year to get cracking on a patch, but I’ve got faith this is going to be cracking, especially in spring when redstart, cuckoo, wood warbler and tree pipit are among the birds on show. So far the highlights have been nuthatch, treecreeper, goldcrest and siskin, but I’m sure there’s plenty of other good stuff lurking around when I’ve got more time for a bigger wander…