Sunday 26 September 2021

 A very good friend of ours and a Friend of Wader Quest to boot, has been in touch to say they have joined up to take part in the Big Wild Walk organised by the Wildlife Trusts. She is a member of the Sussex WT and has a particular soft spot for Bank Voles. For this reason she has created a team for her fundraising called the Bank Vole Ramblers.

Our belief is that caring is the first step to conservation and, if our friend Alicia cares enough to help protect the environment through this cause then we wanted to support her and her husband.

If you feel you'd like to help out too, even in a small way, it all adds up, then please go to their fundraising page and make a donation to help them to help the Wildlife Trust. Of course there is also nothing to stop you from joining the team and raising funds that way, which can also be done via the fundraising page.

Thursday 11 May 2017

A big bird day in a suburban garden.

The weather today has been glorious. It had been a trying morning, as a result early on I found myself in the garden seeking solace. I sat in the sun, closed my eyes and tried to ID all the birds I could hear over the strimmer being used in one of the adjacent gardens and the persistent yapping of the neighbour's pug dog.

Once the interest filters kicked in it was good, the sun warmed my face and with my eyes tight shut I could hear the distant strains of a Skylark issuing its proclamation of spring from the heavens. Blackbirds sang, Goldfinches scolded, Sparrows chittered and a single Blue Tit 'tsee-tseed' from somewhere in the trees nearby.

A Skylark issuing its proclamation of spring from the heavens

Over the next hour as I found things to do outside, with eyes open and glancing skyward at every opportunity, I added Starling, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Rook, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Buzzard and Red Kite, plus a screaming band of Swifts and two Swallows.

Red Kite

I stopped for a rest and a cup of tea with Elis and started to add up the numbers. I got to fifteen then heard a Blackcap some distance away; sixteen. Then the wheezy pulse of a Mute Swan's wings in flight betrayed its passing although views of it were reduced to glimpses between the houses.

Blackcap, the original warbling Warbler
And there, at seventeen, the list might have remained had it not been for a sudden and very emphatic "Cuckoo! ... Cuckoo!" coming from somewhere close by. Glancing up we saw a Cuckoo fly across, spreading its tail as it turned in the air and left us both open mouthed and astounded. I can't remember the last time I have seen or even heard a Cuckoo from any of the various plots of England which I have called home. I can vaguely recall a bird calling far away on a dewy morning in Bushey Heath in Hertfordshire when I was knee high to a Goldcrest.

Due to a lack of Cuckoos in flight pictures, here's a goldcrest instead.

This evening, in the cool of the early night as the blue sky took on a more ashen hue, we were enjoying a glass of Malbec in the garden listening to the lullabies of the Blackbirds; one scolding, one chipping away and a third singing lustily. As they faded a repeated note in the distance told us a Song Thrush was in good voice and as the first star of the night twinkled cheekily overhead a Robin bade us goodnight drawing to a close a delightful day's entertainment brought to us by the local bird ensemble involving a cast of twenty species.

Good night sweetheart!

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Nothing since January 2016. That is disgraceful!

I need to get back into the swing of this blogging thing and get my act together and do it regularly.

So I'll kick of with a 'how we got through 2016' piece.

Many of the last blogs here have been about our wonderful cottage garden, from which we sadly moved away in mid July. As a consequence the garden listing will be infinitely less interesting from now on except... today, in the 'new' house, also in Newport Pagnell, we got garden tick number 38 in the form of a Raven. First heard 'quarking' away it then flew right over the house, magic Christmas present from Mother Nature.

Raven photographed in Angelsey, Wales.

The cottage list ended up at 87 with a late entry of Garden Warbler and Egyptian Goose just before we left in Mid July  and a Siskin in February.

Siskin cottage garden bird number 85.

What else have we done this year? A bit of twitching was called for due to irresistible birds; 

Oriental Turtle Dove in Kent in May.

Oriental Turtle Dove in Otford.

Siberian Accentor in Yorkshire in October. 

Siberian Accentor at Easington.

Dusky Thrush in Derbyshire in December.

So you can see I didn't exactly overdo it. All were life birds as the tendency is not to go for birds we have seen before, even if they would be UK ticks.

Dusky Thrush at Beeley

We had a great local bird in the form of a Short-eared Owl over a nearby field found by local bird finding hero extraordinaire Rob Norris, this was a few hundred yards from the house we now live in; the owl was seen in February before we moved in.

Short-eared Owl, Bury Field, Newport Pagnell

The very same fields later in the year hosted the re-enactment of a battle that occurred there during the English Civil War between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads.

We also saw a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, the last of which I saw in 1995 moments before I injured my back at a fire I was attending with the Herts Fire and Rescue Service. Wow! That seems like another lifetime entirely now. Maybe there's a tale or two to tell from those days too, some even bird related (in the purely ornithological sense).

Deadly with a 45mm hose and a 25mm nozzel.

Wader Quest wise we have had some fun too enjoying Inspirations of Waders in February at Snettisham...

An Inspiration of Waders over Snettisham, Norfolk.

... and participating in the Norfolk Bird Race in April (we came 5th out of 5 teams; valiant effort) raising funds for Wader Quest. I saw 106 species of bird (the rest missed the Jay I saw from the car whilst driving and they were all snoozing) which is the most I have ever seen in the UK in one day. The crowning glory came with the 100th species being none other than Feral Pigeon, which just about summed up our day.

Wader Quest team for the Norfolk Bird Race.
Dan Bradbury, Oliver Simms, Elis and me with the trusty 'Wader mobile'.

From the intense preparation for the British Bird Fair in August through to November it was manic. We hardly had time to breathe with event after event and in between frantic preparation for them. 

However the most significant event for us was the publishing of our book Eury the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. It is a children's book aimed at between 6 and 11 year olds about a spoony's first two years of life from inside his egg to his first nest full of eggs. There is of course a bit of a conservation message running through it. We are selling these for £7.99 and the profit goes to help the Spoon-billed Sandpipers.

Thanks to Leica for covering the printing costs of the first 100 copies.

We enjoyed another trip to Sweden and were really pleased to get some signed Lars Jonsson posters. This time they are a bit smaller being 70x50cm one depicts spring birds...

 ... and the other winter birds. 

We actually have a very small number of these left and we are selling them for £15.00 plus p&p (£5.95 UK). Send an email to if interested.

And finally, as they say on the news bulletins, we had Gary. Gary the Great Tit.

We had a pair of Great Tits nest in an upturned jug in which we had hoped a Robin or Wren might nest. We really didn't expect a Great Tit to use it.

Gary's Mum

One day we noticed there were a few feathers on the lawn and on inspection saw they were baby great tit feathers, something had raided the nest. 

We checked in the nest and there was one chick left. We retired to the house and kept vigil but two hours later the parents did not return and it was getting dark.

We adopted Gary and raised him as our own. 

Gary the Great Tit.

He was a great little character but when it came to the point that he started flying around the room in short direct flights into whatever object stood in his way and he needed to learn how to  fend for himself we felt that a professional would be better placed to do this. We handed him over to a wild bird rescue centre from where, we have been informed, he was eventually released back into the wild.

How Gary would have looked upon his release; we were really lucky to find Gary's dopplegänger for this photo.
So here come 2017, what will it bring? I suspect that it'll be much like this year in terms of work load and free time, so maybe not much on here, but I'll do my best to get a blog done at regular intervals, just for my own sanity as I really like doing them and if anyone else gets any sort of enjoyment out of them, all the better.

All the best for 2017 to everyone who knows us.

Happy memories, some Brazilian birds: © Rick Simpson

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Yellowhammer! Yes!

Contrary to my assertion in the last blog that the chance of seeing a Yellowhammer in or around the garden was close to nil, this week one turned up and we even got a naff photo of it sitting on the wires over the field.

Our first Yellowhammer.

Despite several Reed Buntings coming to the bird table the Yellowhammer has yet to be tempted within the sacred walls of the cottage garden,

Female Reed Bunting

Two male Reed Buntings.

Both our regular woodpeckers were here this week, the Green Woodpecker was ant hunting in the snow and the Great Spotted Woodpecker contented himself with the peanuts.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Ant hunting Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker and Chaffinch

The Robin seems to have gained a friend, or perhaps a future adversary. There is an uneasy truce between them but occasionally they explode into violence albeit  short lived.

Robin on the budding Ribes bush.
 The number of Chaffinches has not abated with a dozen or so around the feeders and under them most of the day. The majority are females, but there are one or two splendid males among them.

Male Chaffinch
The garden list now stands at 84 and the year garden list 47, that's more than half the species total expected in the first month!

Time for something else to turn up then... Brambling or Siskin perhaps? Or maybe I should say there's no chance of either EVER turning up here!

Sunday 20 December 2015

So shaken are we, so wan with care, find we a time for frighted peace to pant... Wm. Shakespeare.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am rather tied up along with Elis in making Wader Quest, the charity that Elis and I founded to support wader conservation, a success. It has been all consuming in 2015 with lots happening, but I'm not going to bore you with that now, if you want to know more go to suffice to say that a lull in the charity's urgent needs has allowed me the luxury of cogitating upon the birds in and around our garden in the last year.

The year list for the garden for 2014 was 74 (from March onwards) and in 2015 it was 73. The funny thing is that we had some new birds with the garden list rising from that 74 to 83 by the end of 2015. Those additional 9 species mean we didn't see 10 that we had previously seen. The missed birds were; Gadwall, Great Egret, Common Sandpiper, Red-legged Partridge, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Mistle Thrush, Bullfinch and Lesser Redpoll. Of these Great Egret is not a surprise as it is still a rarity and the Red-legged Partridge is the weirdest as there were actually seen in our garden but we have not seen one since, not even in the field where we often see Pheasants. The non appearance of the others disappointing to say the least.

'Garden' Bird of the Year for 2014 has to be the Great Egret.

Great Egret flying to roost.

Close runners up are the Red-legged Partridges, Lesser Redpoll, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat.

One of the mysterious disappearing partridges in among the primroses.

Lesser Redpoll for just one day on the feeder.

Sedge Warbler in the field and often singing outside the kitchen window.

Whitethraot giving voice outside the lounge window.

The 9 new birds seen that make up for these are; Pink-footed Goose, Teal, Goldeneye, Green Sandpiper, Herring Gull, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Sand Martin and Redwing.

Of these the Pink-footed Goose would be the bird of the year except that it is probably an escape, the Barn Owl cold have been, but only Elis saw it, so, as a wader enthusiast I'm going for Green Sandpiper for 'Garden' Bird of the Year 2015.

Green Sandpiper on a puddle in the field.

Pink-footed Goose with Greylags and Canada Geese.

Until recently there has been just a trickle of stuff, nothing particularly exciting in terms of novelty although it is lovely to have the occasional visit by both Great Spotted Woodpecker...

Great Spotted Woodpecker taken earlier this year having a drink taken through the lounge window.

and Green Woodpeckers. The former on the nuts (or birdbath in this case) and the latter on the lawn.

Green Woodpecker on the lawn taken through the front door window.

I assume this paucity of birds is due to the unseasonably mild weather we're having this winter. But something has changed in the last few weeks, and it isn't the weather as it is 14°c outside as I write.

This week there have been dozens of Blue Tits coming to the feeders, I have not seen aggregations of these tiny jewels like this since I was a kid when they would appear in our garden in good numbers or at the feeders in Salcey Forest which I believe are sadly no longer there. At none of the addresses in which I have lived have I seen numbers like this, even here at the Cottage last year it was not so well attended by these birds. With them come many more Great Tits than I have seen together in a long time too.
Many more Blue Tits are visiting the garden now.
Every now and then the garden is decorated by a throng of Long-tailed Tits who constantly amuse us and leave us with a smile on our faces.

Like lollipops stuck to a post, always a joy; Long-tailed Tits.

I am particularly smitten by the way in which they will pluck a sunflower heart from the feeder, swing around under the perch, take the sunflower heart from their beak with one foot while holding on with the other and then eat the seed suspended in this way, much like a parrot would.

Such an excellent way to feed!

We get the occasional visit from a Marsh Tit and also from a Coal Tit. The latter was absent except for two one off visits until recently, on one occasion there were two of them.

Marsh Tit

These two don't often come at the same time but seem to arrive with Long-tailed Tits so maybe there are two groups of Long-taileds each carrying a different stranger with them.

Coal Tit.

We also recently had up to 6 Reed Buntings and a Goldcrest visit us.
Reed Bunting in the Ribes bush outside the lounge window.

Sparrowhawks continues to terrorise the garden from time to time, there are at least two and possibly three individuals that visit, one of them a stunning male although he is the least frequent.

Sparrowhawk having just missed its potential lunch by the log pile.

We are also treated to occasional flight views of Red Kites and Common Buzzards.

Red Kite from the bedroom skylight.

Common Buzzards from the garden.

Outside the garden too it has been quiet. The field isn't suitable for Lapwings this year so we have to content ourselves with flyovers, the max being 27 so far. This is particularly galling as it means my ever fervent hope of a Golden Plover with them is much diminished.

26 flying Lapwings over the field and lake.

The number of finches has also increased. The Goldfinches have been much the same in number as they have since the spring, around five or six, but recently they have been joined by the same number of Greenfinches at any given time and double figures of Chaffinches. This, unlike the situation with the plovers, gives me hope that they will drag in some Siskins this year, or even better a Brambling or two and we may even get a return visit from a Redpoll that stopped here just once before.

Part of the finch flock Goldfinch, four Chaffinches and a Greenfinch under the feeder outside the kitchen window..

We also find it hard to believe how few Bullfinches there are these days. Living on the edge of a field with a copse, a lake and plenty of hedgerows you'd have thought they'd be a given along with Yellowhammer perhaps, but these days neither lives here any more. Our garden has been graced by Bullfinches just twice and then only for a very short time. The chances of a Yellowhammer are close to nil, but if we ever get the hard winter they suggested we would get (so far nothing could be further from the truth) you never know.

Bullfinch from one of only two visits in nearly two years.

Thrushes though are few and far between. We haven't seen a Song Thrush since they stopped singing, not one since the 13th of July has put in an appearance in the garden although one was seen in both August and September nearby. We also noted a lack of Blackbirds, very few around since August however one or two are now appearing. We have seen one huge flock of Fieldfares over the field and a heard Redwings at night, Elis also saw some fly over one afternoon in November. The Mistle Thrushes that turned up between the 2nd and 9th of December last year have not returned since.

Blackbirds have been unusually scarce this autumn.

An occasional visitor is the Jay, it doesn't come very often, perhaps once a week n average, but it is always a delight to see when it does.


And finally some more shots starting with of one of my favourite birds.

Long-tailed Tit.

Green Woodpecker
Goldfinches outside the kitchen window.

Blue Tit outside the lounge window.

Greenfinches from the kitchen window.