Friday, 30 December 2011

The fabulous festive season is almost over

I hope that you have had a fantastic Christmas and are all prepared for the new year festivities.

Pretty soon many of you will be wondering how to shed those extra pounds that inevitably creep on over the festive season. You may also be feeling that you need to blow away the cobwebs and get some fresh air. Well I have the perfect solution to both of those problems. Why not join me on one of my birdwatching trips over the coming months?

I've just published my latest newsletter on my website with lots of trips from January to June to suit all interests. Whether you prefer full days or half days, evenings or weekends, local or further afield, there is something for you.

If you see something that appeals then contact me without delay to book a place via

Enjoy your new year celebrations and I may see some of you while I'm out on my traditional new year birdwatching day.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

web software problems and murmurations!

If you have been trying to download my latest newsletter on my website, I'm currently having problems with the web software and, for some reason, I can't replace the January 11 edition. If you would like a copy of my current newsletter then please let me know and I'll send one to you.

At my last indoor class, my regular group of birdwatchers learned about starlings and murmurations! We followed that up this Saturday by visiting Nosterfield and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve at Staveley in the hope that we might see a starling murmuration for ourselves. It had been a wet few days and, despite a dry forecast, Saturday was also wet. All we needed was a dry, still evening and we were in with a good chance.

After a great day out (seeing wildfowl, waders, peregrine, sparrowhawk, kestrel, winter thrushes and water rail), we positioned ourselves and gazed upwards at the sky over Staveley with fingers crossed. Small groups of starlings gathered and merged, circling the reserve while increasing their numbers. It looked promising. Eventually, around 2,000 birds had gathered. They flew this way and that in the setting sun then, against an unusual phenomenon of reflected light in the sky, we were treated to our first dancing movements of a flock in true synchronicity. For about 20 minutes, we watched the starling flock as it swirled, twisted and contorted into unimaginable shapes then, as if there was an inaudible signal, the birds funnelled down abruptly into the reedbed. All was still again and we left feeling happy and privileged to have witnessed something wonderful.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Long time no blog!

Hi everyone

Life has been very hectic over the last few months, catching up with friends and family and having a well earned holiday - consequently, no blogs.

So, what has been happening at Start Birding since my last post in July? Well, as mentioned in my earlier post, I visited the annual British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland water over the weekend of the 19th to 21st August. It was great to see birding friends and acquaintancies and, as usual, I enjoyed the extensive list of talks, exhibits and events. The reserve gets bigger and better each year and the whole experience is getting more and more difficult to fit into one weekend. If you've not been before then I really recommend a visit.

Straight after the Bird Fair, I travelled up to Scotland to visit friends and my favourite birding spots. Birding highlights were seeing common, velvet, surf and black scoter all in one spot, east of Aberdeen; osprey fishing in a nearby activity centre and beautiful black-throated divers in the Highlands.

Indoor and outdoor classes started again in September. So far we have had a trip on the Yorkshire Belle to see skuas and shearwaters; visited the new RSPB reserve at Saltholme and the Teesside Centre and learned about nuthatches and thrushes. Over September and October, two new birdwatchers have joined me for one-to-one tuition sessions.

One of these sessions was booked by a family member as a birthday present which got me thinking that it is coming up to Christmas soon. If you are thinking of something to buy for a friend or family member then why not give them a voucher for a birdwatching trip? Vouchers can be purchased from as little as £10 depending the length of the trip you want to pay for. Contact me for details or visit my web page at .

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Start Birding 2011/12 programme planning is underway

After a very enjoyable 2010/11 season of birdwatching trips with class members, birding pals or (sometimes reluctantly) with family members, I am now having a short break while I take some much needed holiday and plan the next programme of events for Start Birding. 

The highlights of the last month have been my two trips to Upper Teesdale where we were fortunate to see species such as ring ouzel, siskin, spotted flycatcher, redstart, dipper, common sandpiper, black grouse, red grouse, yellow wagtail, snipe, golden plover, lapwing, redshank, oystercatcher and fantastic views of short-eared owls in 2 different areas.

Other highlights include a trip to Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve where we saw marsh, green, common and wood sandpiper; common and spotted redshank; greenshank; ruff; dunlin; avocet; spoonbills; little egrets; garganey and marsh harriers passing food to each other.

On Saturday 11th June, I took my wing collection and bird related curios to the Gledhow Fun Day in Leeds for the second year running. It was a lovely sunny day and I enjoyed meeting all the lovely people who stopped by the stall to ask questions about birds. Thanks to all who entered the prize draw and who expressed an interest in future classes. I'll be in touch with the next Start Birding programme at the end of August.

Over the next few weeks I'll be visiting the Bird Fair at Rutland Water (Friday 19th to Sunday 21st August) then taking my annual migration north to Scotland to see birds such as crested tit; Slavonian grebe; red and black-throated diver; capercaillie; black grouse and, hopefully, golden and white-tailed eagle.

Classes start again in September which will include both indoor and outdoor sessions. Weekend breaks will also be offered in the programme. If you are interested then please contact me via the website

Friday, 10 June 2011

Start Birding goes to Northumberland

At the turn of June, my regular birdwatching group migrated north once again to Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. This year, we have followed a different itinerary than we did at the same time last year, exploring Cresswell Ponds, Druridge Country Park, East Chevington, Bass Rock, St Abb's Head, the Hirsel Estate in Coldstream and a relatively unknown reserve at Caistron.

As usual we had a fantastic time, combining birds with good food and the occasional glass of wine! At Cresswell we had great views of the most northerly nesting avocets (so far). These were accompanied by a range of species including Sandwich terns, redshank, lapwing, shelduck (with ducklings), mallard (with ducklings), teal, a garganey male, tufted duck, gadwall, shoveler, greylag and Canada geese (with goslings), sand martins, house martins, swallows, swifts, dunlin, meadow pipit, house and tree sparrows, finches, reed bunting, skylark and a heron taking an eel. Eider could be seen off shore with oystercatcher on the rocks.

At Druridge Country Park, we managed to get little grebe and a few small birds including great spotted woodpecker, willow warbler and chiffchaff. A visiting bar-headed goose created a stir and we were asked to identify it by one of the staff. East Chevington gave us grasshopper warbler; linnet; common, Arctic and Sandwich terns; cormorants and 5 species of gull.

We started our second day at St Abb’s Head where we had great views of a perching buzzard, fulmar, guillemot, razorbills, gannets and practiced our gull identification as they drifted up the cliff side on an updraft.  The highlight of our weekend was our rib boat trip to Bass Rock which is home to over 100,000 gannets and other seabirds such as puffin, kittiwake, shag, fulmar, guillemots and razorbills.

Our final day was spent at the Hirsel Estate in Coldstream, home of the Douglas-Home family. I’m currently reading ‘The Birdman’ by Henry Douglas-Home who was a great ornithologist and naturalist and who designed his own swift nest boxes which have been occupied since 1953. This is of particular interest to me as I have taken possession of a couple of swift boxes myself and we are currently trying to attract swifts to nest at our house in Leeds.

After spending a few hours at the estate, we then moved on to explore a new reserve at Caistron near Rothbury. On the way across the moorland, the group noticed a couple of peregrines being mobbed by corvids. The reserve wasn’t easy to find. It is situated next to a working quarry and a trout fishery on the River Coquet.  We immediately found common sandpiper with chicks with plenty of sand martins, swallows, house martins and swifts taking advantage of newly emerged insects. One member of our group tried to describe a large bird she had seen briefly as she rounded a corner – looking at the web page for the reserve, I’m sure that she did see an osprey as one has been hanging around the reserve for a while. We finished our visit on a high note with dipper and grey wagtail.

Time was moving on so we had to sadly depart and make for home. Thanks to everyone for the great company over the weekend and I look forward to our next trip together.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A grand Yorkshire day out

We started the day at Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve. It was a beautiful morning. We had gone with the purpose of seeing the common crane - I'd seen it the day before by my companions hadn't seen it yet. The crane wasn’t showing when we arrived so we had a little walk on the reserve. We had brilliant views of cuckoo, lesser whitethroat and common terns and the place was buzzing with warbler song and bird activity. One of the best moments was watching a heron contemplating a raid on an occupied coot nest! Seeing the coot transform from being completely relaxed to becoming an inflated, menacing, black balloon and witnessing the tension of the moment was really something to remember.

We gave up on the crane at around to grab a bite to eat and went to check at the visitor centre to see whether anyone had reported any sightings there. No one had seen it since earlier that morning. By this time, it was beginning to rain so we traveled to North Cave. It rained heavily all the way there but, by the time we had arrived, it had stopped and the sun had come out again.

At North Cave there were around 40 of avocets; both ringed and little ringed plover (both in the scope for comparison); a singing corn bunting; more lesser whitethroats; potential Caspian, Mediterranean and little gull (my gull ID isn't very good); all 3 species of wagtail and, as we were leaving, an osprey flew low overhead being mobbed by many of the avocets.  Priceless!

We went back to Fairburn on the way home to have another try at the crane. Some RSPB friends saw us and watched with us – after about a half hour, the crane walked out from behind a bush on the stacks and everyone got a good view.

Thanks to all those birders that we shared our day with - it was great meeting you.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Phew! the websites have finally been updated

Thanks to my partner's dedication and determination, my "Start Birding" and life coaching websites have now been updated. One of the reason's for this is so that I can link this blog and, through it, post regular news about the birdwatching classes. The websites don't allow me to do this easily as they are quite fiddly to update.

Anyhow, I'm up and running. If you're interested you can have a look at the sites and download leaflets and my latest Start Birding newsletter which contains the dates of my classes. I hope that you'll come and join me.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been out surveying a couple of farms, with my birding companion, as part of the British Trust for Ornithology Breeding Birds Survey. The warm weather and sunshine has certainly encouraged the birds to sing, making identification much easier for me when I'm feeling a bit bleary-eyed first thing in the morning. Many birds were collecting nesting materials and looked fully engaged in creating the next generation. I'm looking forward to the late visits when breeding is well underway and we can see how successful the have been.

A couple of years ago, about this time, I took possession of a week old duckling. It's mum had been killed and a friend rescued it from certain death. I had no idea how such a little thing could change my life. We had a fantastic summer looking after it, buying bigger and bigger pens to keep it outside during the day and housing it in our bathroom at night to keep it safe from foxes. We finally had to give her up and I was very pleased that she had 9 ducklings last spring. I'm hoping that she will breed again this year. Fingers crossed.