Thursday, 27 March 2014

March PWC roundup

With other commitments from Saturday till Monday, I shan't be going to Eyebrook again this month (unless someone else finds something mega there today or tomorrow!), so that's March done for me, and on the whole I shall be glad to see the back of it, to be honest. Seven visits totalling nearly 27 hours for a measly six new birds for the year, bringing the total to 96 species and 107 points.

But at least a couple of the birds were unexpected: a pair of Egyptian Geese (woohoo!) on the 9th, and a Nuthatch on the 21st. The latter appears to be the first record for the site for several years, and to show just how scarce Nuthatches are around Eyebrook, here's the BirdTrack map for the species. The red flag in the middle is my record for this month, and there are no others in about a 5 mile radius. Which is odd really, as there is plenty of suitable woodland in the area. No doubt it's largely down to under-recording, but there's a definite Nuthatch 'hole' here!


Apart from these, the only other bird of any real interest during the month was a nice summer adult Med Gull which flew over me at the Stoke Dry car park on the 18th. The other three new species were Oystercatcher, Redshank and Sand Martin, of which there were just two on the 21st, in contrast to the hundreds at Rutland Water.

So that's it for the winter; from next week the list should start to rise dramatically as the migrants start to arrive...

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Boom!

February has been a surprisingly good month for me at Eyebrook, and I reached my rough target of 90 species for the year this morning with amazing views of the Bittern at the inflow. Definitely a case of third time lucky, having failed to see it last Friday and again on Saturday. This bird has the rather odd habit of feeding under the trees, usually well away from the inflow stream, and today it was doing just that, although it did walk along the stream at one point.

Having never photographed a Bittern before, I was quite pleased to get these first few shots, but even more pleased with the final ones, taken from the bridge in excellent light at a range of about 25 yards. These are just a few from the 150+ I took:

Initial views under the trees were OK, but unspectacular

Then it moved into the open

Posed a bit...

 
Then appeared much closer at the edge of the stream

 
 
Came a bit closer still, then...

 
Boom! (it didn’t actually go ‘boom’, of course, that’s just a way of expressing satisfaction in modern birding parlance).

After this it walked off back into the trees, where I later saw it catch and eat a vole. In all, it was on view for about an hour.

Other February highlights were the site’s first ever Cetti’s Warbler, which I heard calling at the inflow on the 16th, and a Peregrine on the 2nd. The remaining new species for the year were Pintail, Tawny Owl, Grey Wagtail and Mistle Thrush.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Groundhog Day

If any groundhog living near Eyebrook (Stoke Dry Steve or Great Easton Graham, perhaps?) had poked his head out of his burrow today, he would definitely have seen his shadow, thereby predicting another six weeks of winter. And he would probably also have wondered how the hell he'd come to wake up in the UK after going to sleep in North America.

But apart from any biogeographically inaccurate rodent-based weather forecasting fantasies, today had a definite Groundhog Day feel about it as I paid my second visit in three days to the patch. As it was a nice day (almost spring-like in fact, whatever any fictitious groundhog might say) I decided to walk around the entire 5 mile perimeter of the reservoir, something I've never done before in my 29+ years of watching the site on and off.

My 'reward' for this ridiculously optimistic trek was a Peregrine, and the satisfaction of knowing that there really wasn't anything else new for the list anywhere around the reservoir.

Friday, 31 January 2014

January PWC Update

As usual at this time of year I seem to have gone into a sort of cyber-hibernation. Nothing on here since before Christmas and only one post on Facebook so far this year. But I have been making the effort to get out to Eyebrook for the Patchwork Challenge, with a reasonable haul to show from 6 visits totalling  22.5 hours during the month.
Eyebrook on an atypically nice day
Eyebrook on a more typically grim day (this morning)
Before I started, I had a rough target of 80 in mind for January, and I’ve managed to exceed that. As of today, my total stands at 83 species and 90 points. Not surprisingly given the indifferent weather we’ve experienced so far this year, there haven’t been any major surprises amongst the wildfowl. The Velvet Scoter very unsportingly buggered off before the end of 2013, leaving the Ring-necked Duck as the only noteworthy duck present. I say ‘present’; in fact it’s been absent more than it’s been present this month, and I only saw it on my first visit. But that was enough to get it on the list with its very welcome 3 points.

By far the best bird of the month was a female/imm Merlin over the dam on the 17th – this was one I really didn’t expect to see during the year, and a definite bonus, despite being only worth 2 points. Other highlights were a Water Rail at the inflow on the 22nd (another unexpected one), the regular Barn Owl on the 17th, and a Willow Tit on the 25th. Other bits and pieces worth mentioning are Little Owl (first bird of the year), up to 6 Smew, Kingfisher most visits, 1 Lesser Redpoll and a Chiffchaff.

Birds notable by their absence so far include Mandarin and Red-crested Pochard, both of which I saw in December, Grey Wagtail and Mistle Thrush. Ridiculously, Starling very nearly made it onto this list as well, until I saw a small flock flying over the dam this morning! There are also no Goosander or Pintail at Eyebrook this winter, and no gull roost, although I did pick up Yellow-legged Gull on the 25th.

So far I’ve had at least one addition to the list on every visit, but I don’t expect that to continue in February! I’d be happy with 90 species by the end of the month.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Limbering up

Ten days to go till the 2014 Patchwork Challenge starts, so I thought I'd spend a few hours at Eyebrook this afternoon to get a bit of practice in. The drake Velvet Scoter was still off the dam, although I didn't bother walking down to see it as there were no less than nine cars parked by the gate. Hopefully it will stay till the start of the year to get on everyone's year list and then piss off, so I can have the place to myself again! Also, the female Ring-necked Duck put in a surprise re-appearance today, having been last seen on 10th November. It was in exactly the same place as before, just south-west of the island. Interestingly, the pale band on the bill looks more obvious now, lending weight to my theory that it was a juvenile/1st-winter when it first turned up in October.

Other bits and pieces included a Barn Owl flying across the reservoir towards Stoke Dry at 13:25 - I was initially puzzled as to why this was flying around at that time of day, until two cretins came into view, walking along the reservoir side of the hedge and flushing everything. I didn't shout at them, partly because the bloke looked a bit hard, but also because without them I wouldn't have seen the Barn Owl! Also of interest were an adult Caspian Gull (as far as I could tell - everything I could see on it looked good) and a female Mandarin off the island, and a Kingfisher and a Lesser Redpoll at the inflow.

I'm really looking forward to the challenge - I think Eyebrook will have a good year next year; there are certainly plenty of birds there at the moment, anyway.

The other notable sighting of the day was an out-of-range Wanstead birder and friends, on their way back from the Yorkshire Ivory Gull - hopefully they had decent views of the scoter, although it looked from a distance as if it might not have been quite as close to the dam today as it sometimes is.


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Just Say No!

I think I was vaguely aware from a Facebook post a while back that there was a Washington Post article about British twitching in the offing, but had forgotten all about it until I was alerted to it on Twitter this morning. So I had a look.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-britain-bird-watching-gone-wild/2013/12/14/87d5766a-61a3-11e3-a7b4-4a75ebc432ab_story.html

The article gets off to a bad start, as far as I’m concerned, with the title: “In Britain, bird-watching gone wild”... obviously going for the sensationalist angle here. But let’s not judge an article by its title, eh?

OK, first paragraph – a classic piece of journalistic ornithological misunderstanding: “A shorelark... took a wrong turn somewhere over Norway...” Yes, here we go, it’s going to be one of those articles. Let’s see now, Garry Bagnell – check. Lee Evans – check. Adrian Webb – check. “Judge, jury and executioner” – check. Actually, do I need to read any more of the article? I’ve seen all of this tedious ‘churnalism’ about twitching many, many times before in the British media. It’s almost as if the big egos of British twitching have finally realised that they can’t get away with this sort of thing in the UK press any more, so have decided to foist all their nonsense on an unsuspecting American public instead.

And then there are the usual wild and self-aggrandising exaggerations from El Presidente: “Over the years, Evans has wracked up big legal bills defending himself against allegations of slander for allegedly undercounting the tallies of rivals and questioning whether they’ve actually seen all the birds they claim”. Really? Care to give some evidence for that? Because I’ll wager whatever you like that he’s never spent a single penny in any legal action, ever. And, while we’re about it, shouldn’t it be ‘racked’, rather than ‘wracked’?

Why does this wind me up so much? As I seem to say with monotonous regularity, I’m not a twitcher, so why should I care if twitchers are constantly portrayed in the media as egotistical nutjobs? The reason is very simple. Because ‘the general public’ (broad brush, but you know what I mean) does not differentiate between ‘twitchers’ and ‘birdwatchers’, and is easily led to believe that ALL birdwatchers are like this. You only have to look at the comments that always appear on this type of article to realise that (as previously satirised on this blog here).

And I worry that in turn this feeds back into general public apathy, or even antipathy towards birds, wildlife and conservation in general. So these sensationalist tabloid articles do us all (and ultimately the birds themselves) a huge disservice. I don’t really expect anyone to take any notice of anything I say, but to any twitchers – if a journalist asks you for an interview or comments for any article about twitching, please, for all our sakes, just say no!!