Saturday, 27 October 2012

Reward yourself with a rhapsody of colour

Hello birdwatchers

If you've been feeling depressed by the wet, cold summer then I urge you to take a trip outdoors this weekend and reap your reward.

That dreadful, torrential rain and flooding that we've all had to tolerate has created a rhapsody of autumnal splendour around our cities, parks and countryside. Leaves of green, yellow, gold, amber and russet are punctuated by berries of blue/black, red and orange - a sight that could inspire anyone to reach for the box of paints or a camera. Those November winds are just around the corner so don't leave it too late. Visit this link to find out more.

Autumn colours in the suburbs of Leeds

Guelder rose berries

 One big advantage of the November winds is that it becomes much easier to help beginners to identify birds; you can see them and they are in view for longer. Now is a great time to join a class or a birdwatching walk. I have some places available on my birdwatching classes at Rodley Nature Reserve starting again on Monday 5th and Wednesday 7th November for 6 weeks. If you are interested then give me a call. Alternatively, join me at the weekend on one of my walks.

Call me on 07778 768719 for more details or email

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Floods, fog and feathers

Hello birdwatchers

How lucky we have been with the weather this week on Start Birding birdwatching trips. We've been treated to the best of autumnal weather with dramatic mists hanging in the valleys, blue skies and wispy clouds. The diffused light has enhanced the seasonal yellow, gold and russet hues of the October landscape and has provided a colourful backdrop for viewing details of plumage as birds reach their peak plumage condition.

Great spotted woodpecker at Alkborough
In complete contrast, today is overcast and drizzly. The perfect day for looking at photographs and writing a blog. So where have we been this week?

As usual, Start Birding birdwatching classes took place at Rodley Nature Reserve on Monday and Wednesday evening. This week we began our journey into bird songs and calls. If you've always wanted to learn bird songs and haven't managed it so far then why not join a Start Birding class and commit to starting the journey yourself? You can contact me via this page or by visiting my website

On Thursday, Alkborough Flats was the destination. We started in the village at the turf cut maze called Julian's Bower and looked over the cliff towards the flats and Trent Falls. We were looking forward to watching waders and wildfowl however, high tides during the week had flooded the area making exposed mud, and waders, scarce.

Alkborough Flats

Redshank, curlew and lapwing were found on the flats but we had to walk over to Trent Falls, almost getting our feet wet, to see flocks of golden plover. Two little egrets were on the Trent and small flocks of Brent geese flew towards the Humber estuary. Back on the flats, large flocks of teal, wigeon and shelduck were interspersed by mallard and shoveler. Great-spotted woodpecker and reed bunting were also seen. As it was relatively quiet, we followed a couple of other birdwatchers to Worlaby Carrs where short-eared owls had been seen that week, early in the afternoon. We weren't able to stay there too long and sadly the owls didn't show up for us this time but it was good to get some much needed exercise on our walk around the area. We did manage to see male and female marsh harrier, buzzards and kestrel, my first fieldfare of the year, mistle thrush and stock dove.

While we were waiting for the owls, loud laughing calls from many female mallards brought a smile to our faces. After a short walk, we found about 150 mallards on a small man-made pool encircled by reeds and banks. They were so engrossed with each other that they didn't hear us approaching which gave them a bit of a fright. Luckily they all took to the water instead of flying off so we were able to take a few photos before leaving them to their pre-nuptial gathering.

Mallards at Worlaby Carrs

We returned to Alkborough Flats to watch the evening starling roost across the flood plain. We weren't disappointed and watched thousands of starlings gathering in small groups before their murmuration across the river convergence.

Starlings gather before their murmuration over Alkborough Flats

On Saturday I took a group of birdwatchers to Ogston Reservoir and Carsington Water in Derbyshire. This was a scheduled trip on the Start Birding calendar but a quick search on Birdguides Bird News Extra the night before gave us target species of grey phalarope, rock pipit and drake scaup at Carsington Water. We journeyed south on the M1 in beautiful sunny weather but ran into thick fog as we headed for Ogston Reservoir so, consequently, made our stay a brief one. Luckily, a snipe stepped into view as we looked over to the hide belonging to the Ogston Bird Club and we were able to see a few birds on the water from the public hide.

At Carsington, the sun began to disperse the fog soon after we arrived so we spent the day in lovely sunshine. The scaup and rock pipit were easily found but the grey phalarope gave us, and a few other frustrated birders, the run around for a good part of the afternoon. After scanning every bit of water we could see, we finally caught up with it from the Paul Stanley hide in the far corner of the inlet. Everyone managed to get a good look of it before it flew swiftly right and out of view. Too quickly to get a photo but we did manage to get the scaup and a lovely nuthatch which we saw feeding with tree sparrows, willow tit and coal tit at the feeders.

Drake scaup at Carsington Water
Nuthatch (taken by Rodney German)

On Sunday I took a trip to Nosterfield Local Nature Reserve and Nosterfield Quarry. Again we arrived in thick fog but this time it took a little longer to clear. The excellent hide at Nosterfield provided us with enough literature to read with our flask of coffee while we waited for the fog to clear. As you can see, it wasn't possible to view many birds so we observed the behaviour of little grebe, mallard, wigeon, starling and teal at the water's edge close to the hide.

Fog restricted birding at Nosterfield

Thankfully, the fog cleared soon after and we managed to have a walk at the quarry in full sunshine and return back to Nosterfield reserve before it descended on us again.

Sun and wispy cloud over Nosterfield Quarry

Hundreds of golden plover were present in the area with large flocks of lapwing. Flocks of greylags moved between both areas, their grating calls piercing the late fog and guiding other flocks onto the water. Dunlin, shelduck and Canada geese were also present and a little owl was seen in the base of a coppiced tree at the far end of the quarry.

Golden plover at Nosterfield Quarry

Greylag geese at Nosterfield Quarry

Lapwing at Nosterfield Quarry
This week sees the end of the first Birdwatching for Beginners course at Rodley as we have a break for half term. At the weekend we'll visit North Cave Wetlands and the Wednesday birdwatchers will join me at Rodley Nature Reserve on Sunday to practise their bird identification.
More next week

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Antony Gormley meets Anish Kapoor

Hello birdwatchers

Over the last week, in addition to my indoor and outdoor classes, I've managed to get some birding time with friends. On Tuesday I visited South Gare and RSPB Saltholme on Teesside for the first time in ages. We'd hoped for easterly winds so that we could see some visible migration however the weather was quite settled and still. Birding was quiet but we did enjoy watching the few birds that were around in the beautiful sunshine. RSPB Saltholme provides an excellent view of Temenos, the first of the Tees Valley Giants by artist Anish Kapoor, creator of Olympic centrepiece, Orbit. Temenos, which is Greek for 'Sacred Ground' consists of 5.1 miles of steel cables suspended between two steel rings, 50 metres above the ground. It was installed in Middlehaven in 2010 and from Saltholme, appears to the right of the Transporter Bridge.

Turnstone at South Gare

Kittiwake at South Gare
Golden plover at South Gare
Snipe at RSPB Saltholme
On Sunday I joined a group of Birdwatchers on their coach trip to RSPB Leighton Moss and Hest Bank. Again we had great weather and I really enjoyed everyone's company on the coach. It was the first time I'd visited Leighton Moss at this time of year. I arrived just in time to see a couple of otters playfully tumbling in the water. There were signs of autumn everywhere. Birch leaves were turning yellow and vibrant red guelder rose berries dripped with dew. The lagoons were lively with posturing and squabbling wildfowl and bands of tits and finches roamed the damp woodland in search of food. Squealing water rails could be heard deep in the reedbed. Later that day, as our visit was coming to an end, our attention was diverted from the birds when loud groanings filled the air. Red deer stags announced their presence all around the reserve. The rutting season had started.

Red deer stag at RSPB Leighton Moss

Teal performed their clockwork-like posturing

On the previous day, I took a couple of birdwatchers on my scheduled trip to RSPB Marshside and Crosby Beach to see the Antony Gormley installation, Another Place. Flocks of pink-footed geese passed back and forth throughout our visit to Marshside, at one time stretching across the whole of our view of the sky. Again the weather was fantastic apart from a dramatic black cloud over Blackpool which eventually circled round us and gave us a quick shower just as we got back to the car for lunch. A rainbow signified the all clear and we continued our birdwatching before heading south to Crosby Beach.

A heavy storm over Blackpool

Mute swan, snipe, wigeon and coot at Marshside
Our visit to Crosby Beach was timed for low tide so that we could see quite a few of the 100 cast iron, life sized statues that stretch 3 kilometres along the beach and 1 kilometre out to sea. We were also able to watch birds on the incoming tide and managed to see quite a few waders including grey plover, ringed plover, knot, dunlin, sanderling, oystercatchers and redshank.

Life sized sculptures of Antony Gormley look to Another Place

Crosby Beach

After learning about how to attract more wildlife into their gardens last week, the new birdwatchers at Rodley Nature Reserve are now taking their first steps into the world of bird songs and calls. If you are interested in learning more about indoor and outdoor classes then contact me on 07778 768719, or visit

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Felt, feathers and New York cheesecake!

Hello birdwatchers

Another week has gone by, the leaves are turning golden yellow and there is a real autumn chill in the air this evening.

I've just returned from holding a stall at the Big Green Weekend at the Trust for Conservation Volunteer's Hollybush Farm in Kirkstall, Leeds. It has been a fabulous day and I've chatted to lots of lovely people. As usual at the local events I attend, I ran a free prize draw. The prize was a half day trip including one-to-one birdwatching tuition. I have now contacted the winner - thanks to everyone who took part and for your interest in my trips. I hope that you'll join me for some guided birdwatching in the near future.

Yesterday, I had a Saturday off for a change and attended a needle felting class in Hutton Buscel village near Scarborough with felter, Jenny Pepper. I had a fantastic day making felt with a group of like-minded people and the village provided a lovely quiet setting for this relaxing hobby.

On the way home I visited the Lower Derwent Valley, dropping in at the Weldrake Ings Bank Island viewing tower to have a break from driving. It had been a lovely sunny day and it felt good to get some fresh air and admire the evening light over the flooded landscape.

Luckily, I still had some hot water in my flask. I also had with me a slice of New York cheesecake which I'd bought as a treat! So, with my cheesecake and some fresh coffee in my cafetiere mug, I sat for a while watching displaying mallards in the evening sunshine. Heaven.

Later, I finished the perfect day with the perfect result. Leeds Rhinos beat Warrington in the Super League Grand Final after a nail biting match. What a day!

This coming week Start Birding birdwatching classes at Rodley Nature Reserve will be focusing on how to entice more wildlife into your garden. We'll be looking at types of bird food, nesting boxes and where to position then, which plants to put in your garden and the benefits that adding a water feature can bring.

If you're interested in learning more then please contact me on or call 07778 768719

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Where to watch birds and overlapping seasons

Hello birdwatchers

It is hard to believe that it is October already and that we are in the 5th week of Start Birding birdwatching classes at Rodley Nature Reserve. This week we will cover the subject of where to watch birds and the different habitats where birds can be found. We'll also look at how you can find out about places to birdwatch and how to judge when a site may be good for birds.

Start Birding's birdwatching venue on Saturday was Nosterfield Nature Reserve and Nosterfield Quarry. Due to the amount of rainfall over the previous week, we almost weren't able to visit as the A1 and the A19 had been closed earlier in the week and alternative routes were under threat of flood. Luckily we were able to go as planned and met up with Jill Warwick, one of the dedicated volunteers working with the Lower Ure Conservation Trust who manage the reserve at Nosterfield. Jill gave us some history about the reserve and told us about future plans. Many thanks to Jill for meeting us and giving us so much information.

The hides at Nosterfield are always a big hit with the birdwatchers who join me on my trips. If you've not been before then I'll tell you that the benches are covered in sheepskin and are very luxurious. The newest hide is even better and we always find it difficult to pull ourselves away once we get settled.

Given the high water levels, island scrapes were mostly covered with water and we could only manage to get distant views of birds on the main lake. It was a struggle to see the spotted redshank feeding amongst the flooded vegetation but searching for it helped us to find a single pink-footed goose feeding with the flock of greylag. A single black-tailed godwit was also present. Many lapwings and starlings fed in the field beyond. Once again the overlap between the late breeding season and the forthcoming winter was evident. Wigeon gathered at the back of the lake while an unfledged little grebe still called to its parents to be fed. 

After a particularly long search to find the elusive and active spotted redshank for everyone in the hide, we decided to get some fresh air and moved over to Nosterfield Quarry. At the main screen we found lapwing, golden plover, dunlin and shelduck.

Lapwing and golden plover


Great spotted woodpecker and a female tawny owl were hear while we were walking to the next part of the reserve and dragonflies zigzagged this way and that along the footpath. Some were still coupled and there was certainly plenty of water around for them to lay eggs. Whether or not they will be too late we will never know. A drinker moth caterpillar was found on the path, apparently in its final stage before hibernating.

Drinker moth caterpillar
Again high water levels meant that there was no suitable habitat to attract waders and only lapwing, little grebe, cormorant, mute swan, gadwall, mallard, black-headed gull and pied wagtails were seen here.

On the walk back we visited the screen near the visitor centre again. Ruddy darter dragonflies were basking in the sun on the top of the screen making photography much easier.

Ruddy darters (courtesy Rodney German)

Ruddy darter male
Back at the car park we found another moth caterpillar, the buff tip, on its way across the concrete path. We helped it on its way - times are hard enough this year when you're a caterpillar.

Buff tip caterpillar

On Sunday, my Monday evening class joined me at Rodley Nature Reserve for their first group birdwatching session. The weather stayed fine for the whole morning despite rain being reported to the north, east and west of the reserve at the start of our trip. There were plenty of birds about including a flock of around 150 goldfinches on a nearby field, gadwall, tufted duck, little grebe, cormorant, mallard, teal, Canada goose and jay but the stars of the morning were a family of sparrowhawks and a kestrel all hunting in the same area.

If you'd like to find out more about Start Birding classes and trips then please contact me by either phoning on 07778 768719 or email me at  You can also visit for more details.