Clumber park birdwatching

On the 8th January we find ourselves driving across Nottingham at 7am heading for Clumber Park. Despite being dark the blackbirds are singing vociferously accompanied by a songthrush and a robin. It is still dark as we drive across the countryside a possible Woodcock flies over the car in the gloom. Most of the houses we pass, still have their curtains drawn, but a few have lights on.

We get to Clumber just a dawn is breaking but everything looks grey. The sound of the Jackdaws is deafening as they fly off to feed. We park the car and amble towards the chapel where the Hawfinches are often seen.

We stand around in the cold and gloom for about an hour, Nuthatches and Treecreepers are abundant as are Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Goldfinches, Robins, Dunnocks and a noisy Wren scolds us from the rhodedendrons. A single Greenfinch is also found, since disease has wipe out many of their number, they are quite difficult to locate in this area.  A Mistle Thrush flies over.

After an hour I decide to visit the toilets and leave the others waiting. Sure enough five minutes later my mobile shrills into life to announce that a Hawfinch is showing well. I jog as briskly as I am able back to the others (I must get fit this year) to see a solitary Hawfinch perched high in a chestnut tree. It stays in the tree for some 10 minutes or more, occassionally adjusting its profile. As the light improves, we can admire the huge bill, the slight pinkinsh tinge to the feathers on the breast and the colourful wings. After we have all had a good look, the bird flies off. We debate the next course of action and decide to try to see the Mandarin ducks that have been showing down by the bridge. We walk back to the car along the lake  (we could walk but we want to go to Carsington reservoir later and we will need the car for that), Mallard, Tufted duck, Mute Swans, Canada Geese a Cormorant and Goldeneye are all feeding on the lake. We drive slowly to the bridge and park by the feeders. these are covered in birds and we are silenced by the spectacle in front of us a Great Spotted Woodpecker is spinning on an old chicken leg, Chaffinches are everywhere over the leaf litter looking for seeds and amongst them a single Brambling female is hopping just in front of the car. Great Tits and Blue Tits are flying in from all directions and the whole scene is so busy it is hard to concentrate on any one bird. This idyllic scence is shattered when a dog walker goes by and every bird disappears. Another car pulls in beside us parks so far ahead of us the view is abscured and the driver gets out for a walk. Ten minutes later and the Brambling still has not returned, however several cyclists and a couple more dog walkers have disturbed the birds so we walk to the bridge and look for the Mandarin. Just under the bridge, 7 male Mandarin drakes and three females are calmly swimming away from us. We watch them for several minutes, as they swim into the overhanging foliage at the edge of the river. We return to the car and get out the flask for a coffee. In front of us we can now see a Dunnock on the leaf litter, a Robin in the low branches of a tree a Goldcrest searcing for insects at the top of the tree 3 female Great Spotted Woodpeckers on the feeding station and 1 male in the birch tree, a Nuthatch, a Treecreeper, a flock of Long Tailed Tits, a pair of Coal Tits as well as the continuous stream of Blue Tits,  Great Tits and Chaffinches. Suddenly we see the bird we have been hoping for, a Marsh Tit flies from a tree on the left lands on the bird table stays for a few seconds and flies off to the right. We wait possible another 30 minutes and this pattern is repeated by the Marsh Tit several times. We head off to Carsington Water We have seen 4 species new for the year Mandarin, Marsh tit, Brambling and Hawfinch  making a toatl of 115 species  and 40 species for that location in a couple of hours.   A lovely start to a Sunday morning.


Female blackcap overwintering

In the winter we increase the food supply of the birds that visit out garden. We supply fat balls, a fat block niger seed, wild bird seed and a robin mix for insect eating birds. In addition to this any apples that go soft are put out for the birds.

Woodpigeons feed on the path and collared doves come to feed on the lawn. Blackbirds feed on the bird table and every morning a group of starlings feed on the robin mix. Goldfinches scatter the niger seed and a group of up to 10 sparrows feast on the bird seed and fat balls all day. Great tits and blue tits enjoy the fat blocks. However the star bird on the 7th January was an overwintering female blackcap on the garden path feeding on the robin mix alongside a dunnock and a robin. We were thrilled to see it and have seen it several times since we keep the food well topped up in case it drops in.

Attenborough winter specialities

Saturday morning saw us well wrapped us and trying to find a parking space at Nottingham Wildlife Trust’s flagship nature reserve. Our first call was the nature centre, where we could see the latest sightings in the book. Around the centre, looking for food handouts, were a pair of Egyptian geese. Grey herons were hunched on the islands, looking a miserable as only a grey heron can. Cormarants were diving for fish and winter plumage great crested grebes appeared and disappeared as they hunted in the deep channels. The usual suspects were around mute swans, mallards already paired up, Canada geese and greylag geese, tufted ducks were swimming quite close to shore, close enough to see the eye colour. Moorhens and coot were milling about and this mixture of water birds kept us occupied for a few minutes. Blackbirds and redwings were seen in the fruit bushes whilst robin and dunnock were busy in the brambles. On the Tween pond lapwings slept on the islands whilst cormorants perched in the dead trees with their wings spread. At the edges of the pond a pair of teal dabbled in the weeds. Gulls perched on the fencing for the new reedbeds, most were black headed gulls but a couple of common gulls and a herring gull were also on the fence.

Clifton pond has two hides at the margins. This hide has a feeding station outside, a major attraction for birds in winter when food is difficult to find. Sure enough a pair of pheasants were feeding on the ground under the bird feeders, closer examination revealed a dunnock and a robin also feeding on the ground. Both male and female chaffinches were on the tubes of seed. Great tits flew back and forth to the peanuts. Blue tits hovered on the margins looking for an opportunity and about 10 tree sparrows perched in the trees and made forays to gather seed. tree sparrows are becoming more difficult to find and to see such a healthy colony was very enjoyable. Their chestnut caps and white cheek patches were very bright. Shovelers were swimming at the edges of the reedbeds, widgeon and teal were roosting on the strip of land across the pond 4 snipe were seen crouched in the weeds on an island. Male and female goldeneye were diving in the deep water the males were so bright with their extensive white plummage. A flock of long tailed tits moving through the trees provided an amusing diversion. Associated with these flocks some other birds tits, goldcrests, and finches are sometimes seen so we always check them out.

At the back of the pond someone with a telescope suddenly announces there is a bittern in the reeds. the whole mood in the hide changed as all optical equipment is immediately turned on the reeds mentioned. Someone else sees the movement, but the bird is too far away to see and through the telescope all I could see is reeds. I watch the reeds for what feels like hours, but is probably only 20 minutes. I sometimes think I can make someting out, but the eyes play tricks when staring at a reedbed for any length of time. I was the only one of the group who had not seen this and I was rather disappointed. We moved on towards church pond to look for the female scaup that had been reported we try but we can only see coot, tufted duck and goldeneye.

We hear that the smew has been seen on main pond so we set off for the pond, on the way a flock of goldfinches fly into an alder tree and we stop to admire them for a few minutes. The smew, an immature male just developing the black eye patch, is clearly visible on main pond with binoculars and we meet up with another birder who tells us exactly where the scaup was seen. We decide to go back for another look as we are walking through the fishermans car park in the corner we see a real star. A water rail is in a shallow ditch about a metre away from us, it has a wash and preens its feathers, shakes itself and stands around arranging feathers and fluffing itself up against the cold. We can see all the plummage and the bill without any optics with binoculars every feather is crystal clear and we stand there for about 15 minutes mesmerised. Eventually, without exhibiting the slightest alarm, the bird ambles off amongst the reeds  at the edge of the ditch. A redpoll flies onto a nearby willow and comes to drink at the waters edge another bird we don’t see that often.  This water rail was the highlight of the day and a moment so memorable it will stay with me for a very long time.

We walk slowly back to the car and just as described, we find the female scaup hiding behind an Island on Church Pond. The white patch at the bast of the bill is very distinctive and the back of the bird is much lighter than the tufted ducks. We watch it for a few minutes, but the wind is biting in this part of the reserve and we give up and head for home.

We saw 2 new species for the year  making the list 110 (3 for those who saw the bittern) and 45 species in total for the day

Waxwings in the morning

On the 5th of January we had agreed to take our youngest son back to University. However he didn’t want to go until lunch time. This gave us the morning to go birdwatching locally. The weather was cold, grey, windy and cloudy. Having heard about a group of Waxwings at Kirk Hallam, we decided to go and look for them so we drove the few miles to the site. We were greeted by the sights of a tree laden with berries, but empty of birds, whilst being surrounded by birdwatchers with cameras, massive telephoto lenses, telescopes and binoculars. Many of them knew each other and there was a lot of good natured banter whilst we stood and waited. The locals regarded us with wariness. I expect a group of weatherbeaten individuals with cameras and telephoto lenses hanging about in the street outside your house must be a concern, especially if you don’t understand the madness of birdwatching.

We waited for half an hour and saw only a flock of Starlings and a few Siskin in a nearby silver birch tree. A male Blackbird greedily stuffed his beak with berries in a nearby tree eating what he could before the Waxwings returned and ate all his berries. After a while many of the birdwatchers drifted away and we decided to visit the lake at the bottom of the hill. This was where we found the birdwatchers all of them avidly watching birds through their telescopes. This is as good an advert as you get for letting you know where the  birds are. Right enough, in the poplar trees by the lake, 5 Waxwings were perched. They flew from branch to branch, giving us ample opportunities to see the crests on the birds the colourful sides and the pinkish buff breast plumage. Apparently there had been 6 waxwings the previous day but the local Sparrowhawk was presumed to have killed and scoffed one. True to form, on hearing this the local Sparrowhawk flew over giving us good views. On the lake a male Goosander swum around a small island. Tufted ducks, Mallards, Gadwell, Coot and Moorhens swum around in a desultory fashion. Several locals came to join us and were shown the birds. A few Canada Geese waddled across the road and as the clouds gathered and the wind picked up, the light deteriorated and we made our way home. We had seen 20 species and 2 new species for the year making a total of 108 species seen in 2012 so far.

Wollaton Hall Nottingham

Well the 3rd of January was wet and very windy at the end of a hectic day my car came back from the garage still a little difficult to start in the morning but sounding a lot better once it had started. To celebrate on the 4th of January we decided to drive to Wollaton a five mile drive.  Due to the number of jobs I had to complete it was about 11am before we arrived. We parked at the edge of the park and walked towards the lake. As we sauntered past the thick copse of young trees, our patience was rewarded by the sight of a couple of Coal Tits working their way through the trees looking for food. Amongst a flock of Long Tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits were feeding and the treat of a tiny Goldcrest dashed about the canopy looking for insects.   Suddenly all the crows took off scolding some creature deep in the trees they were rapidly joined by Jackdaws and Magpies. We couldn’t see what had caused the commotion but they had obviously perceived a threat. In the old trees  near the lake a Jay sat confidently watching us approach showing the black and white marking on his head. A Mistle Thrush took off from trees near the lake and a female and male Red Crested Pochard were scrabbling for food alongside the Mallards, Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks and Coot. Male Shoveler and Pochards slept under the branches of a tree on the island in the lake whilst a Grey Heron perched in the branches above their heads. On the lake Black Headed Gulls massed in the centre whilst a couple of Common Gulls moved amongst them. Ever so often the peace was shattered as Wood Pidgeon took off from the trees crashing through the foliage with  a great commotion.  As we meandered around the lake pausing every few yards to check out the trees children, dogs, infants in pushchairs and their mothers passed us talking, giggling, gossiping, laughing some riding bicycles, or scooters  or tricycles some crying or screaming  or protesting or arguing. we let them disappear and withing a few moments peace would return. A short distance round the lake in a pair of alder trees  10 Siskin came to feed the males very bright with their yellow plumage and many of them hanging upside down to get at the alder cones. A pair of Treecreepers chased each other round the tree trunks and a Nuthatch called before making a star appearence in a nearby tree wher it obligingly stayed for  quite a few minutes. The flocks of Long Tailed Tits seemed to follow us around and wherever we looked it was hard to spot a bird that didn’t turn out to be a Long Tailed Tit. Still we managed to see Robins and a Wren in the foliage. Having walked around the lake, we headed across to the stables  finding a Mistle Thrush and a Song Thrush on the way. To return to the car, we rambled down a line of sweet chestnut trees to a small wood of ancient trees. In the distance we could see Fallow deer feeding on sugar beet and a few red deer stags sitting amongst the trees. In the trees we were pleased to find Redwings on the groung amonst the trees and the wood seemed to be full of Chaffinches and Grey Squirrels all searching in the leaf litter for food. A fallen tree lay just in front of us with dead branches sticking up from the main trunk it wasn’t until we walked around the trunk that we found ourselves face to face with a pair of Red Deer stags. We regarded them and they watched us closely neither of us moved and we slowly walked away whilst they watched us. As we stood there a flock of small birds  flew over and settled  in a London Plane tree trying to eat the seeds. These turned out to be a flock of Goldfinches We had been out for 3.5 hours and had seen 35 species of bird 5 of which we hadn’t seen yet this year making a total of 106 birds seen since the 1st of January.

North-Norfolk Foray

So on the second of January we all piled into the car at 7am to head for the North Norfolk coast. It took us 2.5 hours. On the way as the sun rose on  a cloudless sky we saw flights of Lapwing and Golden Plover feeding on the Lincolnshire fields Red-Legged Partridge and Pheasant grazed in the furrows. We arrived at Hunstanton to see the golf course covered with Curlew and Oystercatchers.

We headed for Cley first and then worked our way back along the coast. We arrived at the visitors centre just after it opened and got tickets. We then pottered off to the centre hides where the Western Sandpiper was displaying amongst Dunlin, Lapwings and Ruff. It wasn’t the most exciting bird in the world as it looked very similar to a small Dunlin at such a distance, but from the press of birdwatchers in the hide had raised considerable excitment. It was standing room only in the hide and we felt compelled to utter almost continuous apologies as we attempted to avoid the telescopes of the massed birdwatchers. On the way out of the hide we saw another rare Norfolk specimen, Brian Bland wrapped up and heading for the hide with the sandpiper. I hope the sandpiper is conscious of the honour bestowed upon it.  Just outside the hide we paused to view the Western Sandpiper again (as with only 8 seen in the UK it isn’t a bird we will see often). As we watched a Marsh Harrier flew up from the reeds and the whole flock of waders took off. In flight the sandpiper was much more obvious as the small size was more apparent and the different plummage meant it stood out from the flock, it also flew faster than the associated Dunlin. As we walked back to the car, the sound of Bearded Tits was heard in the reeds (but that was it, just the sound). A flock of Pink Footed Geese flew over us, whilst across the road from the centre a group of Brent Geese were busily feeding on the field, indifferent to the line of birdwatchers with their telescopes trained in their direction.

We decided to go to the beach and try the North hide for birds. 20 minutes of sea watching yielded about 20 Red Throated Divers some of them very close to the shore, 3 Common Scoter bobbing about in the waves, Guillemot , Turnstones and Black Tailed Godwits. A seal kept a wary eye on us from close to the shore. Avocets were paddling off North hide. Widgeon, Teal, Shoveler and Pintail were happily feeding in the shallows whilst a Little Grebe meandered up and down the neighbouring channel. As we walked flocks of Golden Plover wheeled above us and massed Lapwings took off flew around and settled again. A flock of Goldfinches scattered along the dunes as we walked, moving from clumps of seedheads to the next patch, their colours enhanced by the bright sunshine. A Skylark perched on the fence and although it was cold and windy we felt exhilarated. Following a lunch break we drove towards the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. On the way we found at least 2 White Fronted Geese in a field adjacent to Lady Annes Drive at Holkham with a dozen Greylag Geese, but couldn’t pause long on the busy coastal road.

The car park at Titchwell was bulging but we managed to find a place to park after driving round twice. A flock of birdwatchers were gathered in the picnic area looking at the  trees trying to find the Arctic Redpoll that had been seen earlier. After a few minutes the Lesser Redpolls flew into an alder tree across the picnic area accompanied by the paler Arctic Redpoll. At once the group was hushed as 30 pairs of eyes were trained on the bird. Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Long Tailed Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits all flew across the clearing unheeded (except for me of course). Dunnock, Blackbird, Wren and Robin lurked in the foliage whilst Redwings gorged on hawthorn berries. From the first hide a female Scaup headed into the nearby reeds but a pair of Scaup on the lagoon made up for the brief view of the first Scaup. Amongs the Black-Headed Gulls on the water a Mediterranean Gull was concealed, its characteristic eye-ring, thicker bill and pale ends to primaries eventually seen and identified. Snipe were hiding in the foliage on the islands and a Goosander swum amongst the islands at the back of the lagoon. As we moved to the new hide we saw 2 Spotted Redshank feeding in the brackish lagoon. They were clearly identified by their greater height, longer slightly upturned beak and habit of rushing around in circles like particularly ditsy waders.

On the sea 2 Whooper Swans swum in the distance and Red Throated Divers bobbed about. A Goldeneye caused a brief flush of excitment until it was positivly identified. The shoreline contained a smattering of waders including Grey Plovers, Knot, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Bar- and Black-Tailed Godwits. The light was starting to fade as we trudged back to the car park weary and cold, but very happy with the day. We thought that was the end of the day, however as we drove home a Woodcock suddenly emerged from the ditch at the side of the road flew towards the car saw the obstacle and wheeled off back into the darkness over the fields. A wonderful end to a great day. After 2 days birdwatching we had seen 101 species with 28 of those being added in Norfolk of the 82 species for the day.



I started the blog with the best of intentions wanting to write about the plants and their biology which I have found fascinating for years but the pressure of work and then the stress of redundancy in September rather destroyed that. I plan to carry on in 2012.

Just as a start my family are mostly ecologists some are professional and some are amateur. On the first day of every year there is a race to find as many species of bird as possible. It is as if we have never seen a bird before and all bets are off. This year we broke with tradition and instead of rushing to the North Norfolk Coast we concetrated our seach at Rutland water. This is nearer for us and as our income has halved, money for fuel is in short supply.

We started the day as it was just getting light on the North shore at the fishermans car park looking for the long tailed duck that had been reported. There was one other birdwatcher there who was looking for an otter and had seen the duck. We stood around for an hour during which time we saw, siskin, robin, wren, blue tit, great tit, long tailed tit, a jay was a colourful sight, great crested grebe, goldeneye, tufted duck, coot, widgeon, mallard and a buzzard in the field opposite. We decided to return later and went to the visitors centre which was now open. from the comfort of the heated viewing area we saw the four bewick swans that had been reported earlier. Teal, little egret,grey heron, mute swan,  Canada geese, gadwell, pied wagtail and pheasant were all appreciated and it was lovely to get warm again.

We moved on round the reserve heading for the lagoon hides. We checked the bird feeders but the presence of Tim Appleton’s dogs in the van had scared off all the birds. Thankfully before we reached the first hide in the small fields we found a song thrush with fieldfares and redwings. quite a few flew over our heads making their characteristic call. We found 2 bullfinches in the trees and saw most of the common corvids carrion crow, rook, magpie and jackdaw. The numbers of lapwing and golden plover in the lagoon hides were fantastic and when they all took off simultaneously it was quite a spectacle. We noted a kestrel hunting over the fields. As we made out way round in lagoon 1 and 2 we caught up with shoveler, pochard, pintail and shellduck. Lagoon 4 gave us all of the common gulls not only the ubiquitous blackheaded gull but common gull, herring gull, lesser and a greater black backed gull. As we were thinking of moving on three goosander flew into the lefthand side 1 male with the lovely plummage of this species and 2 females. On lagoon 3 we searched for the whooper swan that had been reported without success. However we did find a couple of waders redshank living up to its name and dunlin. One of the best highlights of the day were 4 female smew on logoon 3, we spent quite a while watching them. We headed back to the visitors centre to get lunch. Getting up at 6am makes you hungry by 1pm. We stopped off at the feeders and were treated to repeated sightings of a willow tit coming to feed as well as many of the other common garden birds, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, robin and in the trees above the feeders a great spooted woodpecker was highly visible. Following food we went back to look for the long tailed duck, which we located amongst the great crested grebes. Once we had all examined in in the telescope and seen the goldcrest that obligingly stayed moving around the trees in the car park. We decided to finish the day with a visit to the old hall ares to look for the snow bunting. We eventually found the area and walked around the pathway when on the shoreline a group of small birds was sighted. We moved closer and were treated to the sight of a group of meadow pipits and one female snow bunting feeding by the shoreline. Happy with this success we were prepared to go home when we were told of a little owl roost at the edge of the eyebrook reservoir. With only an hour of daylight we drove to eyebrook walked to the tree indicated and set up the telescope and immediately found the little owl looking very cross as little owls always do. Bridwatching doesn’t get easier than that. Then having been told that up the hill was a short eared owl we drove a short distance and went to look at the rough grassland a favourite hunting ground for this bird. We found red legged partridge and lots of hares in the fields, 4 in one field alone, but no owl. We decided to head for home and were just settling into the car when ahead of us the owl flew across the road. We were out of the car in record time and were up the hill watching the owl quarter the field and then perch up. After a few minutes and with the light starting to fade we decided to leave we drove past the reservoir but a group of parked cars by the side of the water made us stop and ask what was about at the edge of the reservoir was a green winged teal feeding with a group of standard teal its white flank stripe clearly visible. We drove home tired but very happy. We had seen 73 species in the day that is quite astonishing for the first day of the year.

Next time my trip to North Norfolk and the species we saw