Monday, 31 December 2012

Wonderful moments of 2012

Hello birdwatchers

Well what a fantastic year it has been - I hope that you have been able to follow the Start Birding blogs over the last 12 months and have enjoyed reading about the wonderful birds we have seen on our trips.

Since my last post, we have remained in Yorkshire for the rest of December. The Monday and Wednesday evening classes joined forces for their first Christmas party at Rodley Nature Reserve while the Tuesday class dressed up as birds for their 8th Festive evening of fun.

Our trip to Pugney's and Calder Wetlands in Wakefield allowed us to watch a displaced, deep sea duck in action on the main lake. Long-tailed duck occasionally turn up in Wakefield along with other scarce wildfowl such as scoter, scaup, smew, ring-necked duck, American wigeon and feruginous duck. It is like a ley line for wandering birds right on our doorstep.

Long-tailed duck at Pugney's Country Park (Rodney German)

The final trip on the 2012 programme was to one of Leeds' local gems, Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve. It was a sunny morning and the woodland birds were enjoying a pause in the wet weather. The sunshine brought out the warm colours of bullfinch, greenfinch, siskin, robin, blue tit and song thrush. Ahead of us on the water-logged path, the puddles provided a much needed pre-preening bath for a male bullfinch. We finished the walk with a hot drink and a festive mince pie.

A male bullfinch bathing at Kirkstall (Rodney German)

Festive birdwatchers at Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve

As usual at this time of year, I put on an extra, unannounced trip to walk off the cobwebs and the over indulgence of Christmas day. This year, festive birdwatchers joined me at RSPB Blacktoft Sands. After everything I said about having good weather on my trips and being very lucky in 2012, I think I changed my luck. It rained most of the day. Luckily, there are enough hides at Blacktoft and we were able to take shelter from the prevailing wind. The weather did inhibit us from thoroughly scanning a field of greylag geese but we did find a Greenland white-fronted goose among them before the rain covered the telescope lens. Back at the hides, barn owl, marsh harrier and hen harrier hunted in front of us; the male hen harrier being the star of the show for me. We toasted the new year with a thimble full of home made sloe gin and Christmas cake (with Wensleydale cheese of course) from one of the hides before heading home.

It is a tradition of mine on new year's eve to look back on the birding year and pick my top 5 birding moments and top birds. 2012 has been filled with wonderful birding moments - thankfully all shared with equally wonderful people. My favourites are: watching thousands of barnacle geese flying overhead at Caerlaverock in January; finding European white-fronted goose, taiga bean goose and tundra bean goose with greylag at Staveley in February; hearing a corn bunting singing on a new BTO survey site at Great Heck in May; watching a pied flycatcher singing in Middleton Woods in Ilkley and finding an illusive grey phalarope at Carsington Water in October.

So why am I sitting here writing my blog on new year's eve? Well, the dreaded norovirus struck our house for the second time this month so we had to cancel our plans this year.

I wish you all a happy and peaceful 2013 full of birds and wonderful wildlife moments.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Ma @ Donna and child

Hello birdwatchers

I hope that you have managed to catch up with some of our winter visitors over the last couple of weeks. Thanks to everyone who emailed me about their waxwing sightings. It has been great to hear that Leeds birdwatchers have managed to see them for the first time this year.

Since my last blog, we have been experiencing some real autumnal weather. We've been shivering in our classroom at Rodley, peering through fog in the vale of York and battling with an icy wind on the Lincolnshire coast. Thankfully we've had plenty of warm clothing, blankets and cups of tea to keep out the cold.

On 24th November, our planned ringing trip was postponed due to the fog. Feeling disappointed, we headed off to North Duffield Carrs in the hope that the fog would lift and we would be able to view enough birds on the lagoons close to the hides. We had encouraging views of the sun emerging from the mists but, instead of lifting, the fog very quickly got worse. I decided that it wasn't worth staying so we headed west to RSPB Fairburn Ings.

Canada geese fly onto a fog covered lagoon

On the journey, the thick fog lifted then dropped again making us unsure about whether we would manage to see any birds that day. Thankfully, Fairburn was clear when we arrived and we managed to see waxwing, redwing, siskin, tree sparrow, kingfisher, and plenty of wildfowl before the fog and the freezing temperatures finally got the better of us.

Throughout this year, I've been taking my mobile cafe on each of the Start Birding trips which, I think, has really been beneficial to my companions. My guests have the choice of a selection of teas, coffee, hot chocolate, juice and a range of different biscuits to provide some much needed calories.

Last weekend we took a trip to Donna Nook, one of the best places in the UK to get close up views of grey seals, the third rarest seal in the world. Only a low fence separates viewers from new born and growing seal pups. Close to the scenes of maternal bliss, testosterone fired males engage in combat to win the rite to mate with the females as they come into season.  Many males can be seen bleeding from their battle scarred, blubbery necks and it is amazing how fast they can move across the sand when chasing off a rival.

Warring male grey seals

newly born seal pups with their mums

An exhausted male: grey seal males are the largest of all UK mammals
a proud mum with her pup (photo by Rodney German)

seal milk is almost 60% fat and pups can grow from 15kg to 40kg in 3 weeks

Unfortunately, not all pups thrive to look like overstuffed sausages. Some are either still born or die soon after being born. This probably doesn't come as a surprise, but what is surprising is that the dead seal pups and seal afterbirth create a very strange birding moment. My guests very quickly went from revulsion to fascination and disbelief as they watched turnstones avidly eating seal flesh just a stones throw away from the path; behaviour you usually only expect from crows, gulls and passing raptors. Don't look at the next photo if you're squeamish!

a turnstone eating seal afterbirth

Along the Lincolnshire coast we saw flocks of meadow pipits and skylarks feeding on the ground. Waders included turnstone, grey plover, curlew, dunlin and redshank and a flock of dark-bellied Brent geese flew in from the fields towards the middle of the day.

This coming weekend, we're heading to Pugney's and Calder Wetlands in Wakefield. There is a long-tailed duck there at the moment and smew, scaup and American wigeon in the area so fingers crossed for a good day. We're hoping to see bittern on the reserve at Pugneys and the forecasted cold weather will give us the right conditions.

Next week will be the last of this year's indoor classes at Rodley Nature Reserve. We will be having a festive party with birdwatching games and exercises then will enjoy a break before starting again in January. If you are interested in hearing more about indoor and outdoor classes in 2013 then my next newsletter will be out very soon. You can email me to receive the list of my forthcoming trips on or call me on 07778 768719.

Finally, I'd like to say goodbye to my friend and long-term furry companion, Josh who sadly didn't make it to Christmas and died at the end of November aged 17. He was such a character and the house feels empty without him. He will be missed for a very long time.

Thanks to everyone for your kind words and for your understanding and support over the last couple of weeks. Rest in peace Josh. You've been an absolute star x

Josh 1995-2012