Sunday, 12 March 2017

A Great Weekend & Mid-March Round-up

Well... sometimes everything just comes together, and this was one of those weekends. I started out with a walk around the long river loop on Saturday morning where I bumped into Nick. It was grey and quiet, so Nick and I mused about what we might see and what we'd seen by this time last year. Weirdly, we discussed siskin (a bird Nick had not encountered yet), went our separate ways and within 5 minutes, a flock of 12 or more siskin settled in the alder I was under.

That pretty much capped Saturday, but on Sunday morning the weather was much better and I headed to the North of the patch. Unlike the day before, birds were everywhere, active and confiding. Bullfinches have been present in good numbers all winter, but finally this cow and bull allowed me close enough for a picture.




In the woods, another flock of siskin descended on me and I managed this record-shot (something of a classic of the genre... blurred, obscured, and uninspiring).



Other common birds flirted in the sunshine...



A walk around the fishing lakes turned up nothing. While returning through the wood, I saw a bird splashing in the river. My first thought was that it was a pigeon, but as I drew closer I was amazed to see this sparrowhawk. Occupied with what he was doing, he allowed me a good sequence of shots in difficult light, culminating with his puffed up drying in a riverside willow.


Out of the woods and into the fields, I spotted a small bird fly-catching. It was quickly accompanied by a singing individual; my first two chiffchaffs of the year.


Further along the hedgerow, meadow pipit and reed bunting were present in good numbers.




My favourite animal on Earth, feathered, furry or otherwise is the stoat. I can remember every day I've encountered a stoat and where; there's just something about them that I find so endearing. Today I had one of my best encounters ever. This individual spotted me, decided I wasn't a threat and just went about his business despite me. The sun was behind him, so he was difficult to photograph. Matters only got worse because he got so close (these images aren't cropped); at one point, he almost ran over my boot! Incredible!


Mid-March Round-Up

Since the end of January, I've added twelve new species to the year list, including jack snipe, whooper swan...


...and waxwing (all 2-pointers).

Also, making the list were golden plover (here with lapwing and shelduck... with a green sandpiper just out of shot)...


...goosander, skylark, linnet, red-legged partridge, canada goose and common gull. It means that I'm 3 species ahead of this time last year, missing out on barn owl, corn bunting, redpoll, redshank and red kite.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Signs of Spring

Exhausted with work last week, I took the Friday off and was glad I did; it was a beautiful morning to be out and about. The sun's rays have warmth and the birds have been triggered into song. In the garden, song thrush, blackbird and robins are the most vocal, while the house sparrows have begun fighting for roof space, noisily clattering along the gutters as they dispute.

Out in the open, below an increasing number of showy skylarks, the hedgerows are hosting a sing-off. The most notable bird being one of my favourites; the under-stated dunnock. This weekend was the first I've heard them this year and yet they've all come to life at once. This beautiful individual allowed me very close as he laid claim to his strip of thorn. NB: double click on pictures to see them in full resolution



Along the river, a flotilla of 6 goosander split equally drake and duck were seen. I had only seen the odd bird in flight thus far this year, so it was pleasing to see so many together. As I watched them fly up river away from me, I missed what was certainly an otter splash and vanish from sight. Also on the river were the first pair of oystercatcher, joining the lone bird that has been hanging about for weeks.



The year-list has been ticking along slowly after an initial flurry, and I've managed to add linnetferal pigeon (#patchgold), red-legged partridge and waxwing to the list since I last wrote. The latter feels like a bit of a cheat...

I got the call from Nick that they were present in Morton-on-Swale so rushed to see them. There were some 80 birds, but they began to disperse soon after i arrived. Nick put the idea in my head that I'd be able to record them on my patch so I went and stood on the highest point and watched Morton from afar until I spotted the large flock fly-catching at Morton bridge! Here is the best picture I could manage in the brief time they were at eye level.


Sunday, 5 February 2017

4th February




The sun was out on Saturday morning so I took to the long river loop. Goldcrests that have been the bird of the winter on the patch were completely absent and I began to wonder whether they were already working their way back to Siberia. I kicked up a couple of partridge on the way to the river and logged my first goosander of the year, flying on rapid wing-beats toward Morton-on-Swale.

The river has been quieter than normal, but the patch first of two little grebe a couple of weeks ago was followed up by the sighting of a solitary bird about 1km upstream. They're very cryptic and I wonder whether I've just blundered by them in the past.

Each year I've lived here, my first skylark sightings have come at the same place and this year was no different... two birds were singing at the NW-most bend of the river loop. Another sign of Spring, male lapwings have begun to hold territory in Thrintoft Ings. It feels like it's going to get colder before it gets warmer but I love how the seasons aren't defined, but instead feather together.

Fields that were laid to stubble last year are unusually covered in grass and alas the bunting and finch flocks cannot be found. I wondered up to the great hedge opposite the large ox-bow hoping to tick off linnet, redpoll, corn burning or brambling but none could be found.

Instead, I spotted a hare lying in its form in the field. From a hundred yards or so I edged closer and closer, camera held to my face. I find that hares react in two ways: they either bound slowly away at the first sight of me; or they hold their ground until I'm close before bolting at great speed. The hare above did the latter (the image above isn't cropped) allowing me within 20ft. It wasn't until I looked away and looked back that it was on it's heels and in the blink of an eye, 200 yards away.

Other mammals were obvious this weekend too; badger prints led out on the path from Thrintoft and otter tracks and slides were obvious on the far river bank opposite Scruton. Roe hoof-prints are everywhere and I even saw my first pygmy shrew in ages... the last one running up my leg whilst I sat in my hide a couple of years ago.


Friday, 3 February 2017

January Round-Up



As last year ended, I'd pretty much convinced myself that I wasn't going to give up as much time to the Patchwork Challenge this year. I found that despite it leading to some great sightings and a significant increase in my knowledge of Thrintoft and its geography, it had led to me take fewer quality photos... and I have a lot invested in my camera and lenses!

However, every day I've had free this year has been on a grey day with poor light so I've taken to twitching instead of photographing. Annoyingly, the results have exceeded my expectations and I'm hooked again. The graphic below shows my year-on-year progress; by this time last year, I'd logged 65 species and this year that number is 66.

I find it interesting to note the species I've failed to find this year that I had seen by this time last year and vice versa.




Of greatest note, is the discovery of little grebe, siskin and pink-footed goose... three birds that eluded me for the whole of last year. Damn! Now I have to reach 105 species in 2017...

These pink-footed geese have hung around for a week...



Proper updates from here on in...






Saturday, 24 December 2016

November & December Round-up


I start with my usual excuses... it's been months since I last posted; a combination of being very busy with a new job and having found little interesting to report on. However, before I review the year in full I thought I really should make time to log all of the late Autumn months' findings.

The large ox-bow lake has not proven to be very fruitful at all; certainly for waterfowl - it did turn up some awesome ticks for passerines this year. The only waterfowl I've recorded there have been mallard, tufted duck, moorhen and teal. The latter have steadily built up in November over the summer and the photo above shows a small part of a flock 100 strong that I kicked up in late October.

Swans are largely absent from the patch and I've only recorded them flying through this year. This mute swan in early November is only my second sighting of the year.



More reliable are the traditional farmland birds. I don't know what it is about the area, but birds that are declining nationally are doing very well here. I feel truly blessed that I can count yellowhammer and tree sparrow as regular garden birds



The hawthorn was absolutely heaving with berries early this autumn, more so than anytime I can remember, and this proved a huge draw for many birds. Flocks of redwing and fieldfare blackened the skies on occasion; so much so that the trees have been decimated and the thrushes have mostly moved on. Attempts to photograph these birds feeding proved largely fruitless; this was the best I could manage of a redwing.


Other birds drawn to the berries included blackbird, bullfinch, woodpigeon, buntings but no waxwing. The commotion attracted other birds too: sparrowhawk have been very common this autumn, and feeding groups of tits and warblers have centred on the haw where the thrushes feed.



I don't recall seeing warblers in the winter months before. This year, chiffchaff have held on and will probably over-winter. This bird was seen sunbathing in early December before it narrowly avoided the attentions of a brilliant male sparrowhawk. The following weekend, four were seen at the same spot near the waterworks.



Other sightings of note include oystercatcher, little egret and an increase in snipe numbers (they seem to emerge from every grassy puddle). Fingers crossed I can add jack snipe to the year list this week!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Last of the summer whine

It's been a long time since I last posted; time has escaped me in recent weeks both in terms of freeing me to explore the patch and finding a moment to sit down and look through my notes. It's been driving me mad!! However, I have no plans this next weekend so I thought I would catch up on goings on in advance and post some of my favourite photos.

Autumn is definitely here; the colours are incredible this year and I'm hoping that any strong winds hold off until the weekend so I have a chance of capturing the woods in their full majesty. But it's not just the colours, the wildlife is changing too.

I spotted (or rather heard, then spotted) my first redwings on 17th September; six birds moved from tree-top to tree-top, North along the Swale at Warbler corner. I was particularly pleased as mine was the first inland record I could find this year. Since then, numbers have swelled considerably and these thrushes have been joined by hundreds of their feeding companions, fieldfare.

The little egrets are back after a summer long absence and I've counted them along every stretch of the river this Autumn. I wonder where they go...





Greenshank passed through in record numbers. A brief, lone sighting under the riverine wood was trumped over the following weekends with small groups in flight and a very vocal group of birds that could be heard throughout the North of my patch.

The osprey too returned through the patch and hung around for nearly a month; my last sighting being on the 20th September... the same day I saw my first ever Swale otter!! Not the greatest of views, it tormented me by coming up for air for a fraction of a second before disappearing under the water where I'd lose it. I stood frozen for nearly an hour hoping for a photo-opportunity but it never came.

Starlings have begun gathering in large numbers and at roughly the same time each evening, large flocks head west over the house to roost; to whereabouts I don't now. Here a crow sits awkwardly among an early morning gathering.

Joining the starlings on the ploughed fields have been huge numbers of linnet (I counted upwards of 100 on the fields in the Long River Loop), never settling for long, the birds whirl and rush like a shoal of bait-fish.

An even more welcome sight have been curlew. Last winter felt quiet for waders (other than snipe) but already this Autumn I have counted groups of 50+ curlew and similar sized troupes of lapwing. Against a blue sky they're quite a spectacle when they circle to choose a safe place to alight.

At the other end of the size spectrum, constantly calling, migrating goldcrest have drawn other birds in and the river trees especially seem a magnet to these feeding groups. Chiffchaff and willow warbler are the last hangers-on from the summer breeders and find comfort in the mixed flocks of long-tailed tit, blue-tit, great tit and the aforementioned goldcrest. Occasionally a treecreeper can be spotted in the mix and I'm constantly on the look-out for something more unusual. Having seen one in March, firecrest feel like a real possibility and large numbers of yellow-browed and other leaf warblers have been turning up on the East coast in some number. 

Fingers crossed for this weekend! Even if nothing unusual does show up, I'm happy just to be out and about in the company of the ordinary, especially when that's as grand as this buzzard.


Sunday, 11 September 2016

Comb Raiders

Walking through the riverine wood today, I stumbled upon a crime scene. The charges? Breaking, entering and infanticide. In the first picture below, a pit dug about ten inches across, 18 inches long and 12 inches deep. In the top left of the picture, the broken combs that would have contained the larvae of a wasp-nest. In the bottom right of the picture, wasps tightly crowded around the remaining comb and presumably the queen (second picture).



At first I was uncertain what had done this. Was it the work of man? The pit was so perfectly shaped and clean-sided that it looked like it had been made with a shovel. I reasoned that there would be no motive for anybody to do this and suffer the wrath of hundreds of wasps.

I scoured my mind for animals that eat wasps. Twenty minutes earlier I'd watched a buzzard follow an osprey above the wood, so perhaps with this raptor encounter on my mind, I leapt to the very unlikely... honey buzzard! No, it couldn't be... there have been no records of honey buzzard in the area to my knowledge and certainly none so settled that they'd find and excavate a wasp nest.

Then I remembered watching ratels on TV, following honey-guides in Africa to bees nests before plundering them for their grubs and honey (as reward, the small bird picks at the scraps the honey badger leaves behind, unable to break into the nest itself). Then it occurred to me, it was a plain old badger! I know badgers can be found in the wood as I have frequently found there pug-marks left in the wet mud along the river.

Strangely, I got lost in the wood for an hour soon after (I was trying to find a short-cut between one part of my patch and another, but the route was blocked by acres of himalayan balsam!) and in my random wanderings, stumbled upon two badger setts.

Patch Update

A few passing birds are still showing up, though the overall avifauna is starting to feel a bit wintry. This handsome whinchat was working her way along the Long Hedgerow (see patch map). These pictures, though heavily cropped, are an upgrade on the 'little brown blob' efforts of my first encounter with whinchats.



A little further along the hedge in the corner of the field, a scruffy male redstart was seen in a charm of goldfinches atop a hawthorn before flying down to skulk characteristically beneath the hedgerow. I didn't manage a photo as the binoculars were glued to my eyes in a mild disbelief... before this year I'd not recorded whinchat or redstart on my patch and yet here were the 3rd record of each this year alone! Fantastic.

While good numbers of warblers hang on, they've begun to seem inconspicuous in comparison with typical winter residents. A walk through High Field flushed 5 meadow pipits, while goldfinches, reed buntings and yellowhammers are by far the most conspicuous birds, moving about in groups of a dozen or so. The only birds that let me close enough for a photo were a group of typically confiding long-tailed tits.


On the river, the common sandpiper have gone but green sandpiper and greenshank have moved in to replace them. Forty or fifty teal have taken residency on the Large Ox-bow, taking to the air in noisy groups at the slightest disturbance. Water has returned to the Small Ox-bow and a snipe was flushed; the first since early Spring.