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