Friday, 31 May 2013

Birding in the coldest spring for over 50 years

It came as no surprise to me to hear the announcement that this spring has so far been the coldest in over 50 years. I think I've worn gloves for most of my classes since the start of my spring programme and I've even reverted to full winter gear on more than one occasion.

As for the birds, woodlands and hedgerows have often been silent as birds refuel after a cold night and it has been a challenge to find some of our spring migrants for eager birdwatchers.

As I write this blog, the sun is shining and I'm watching swifts circle around my house. I've still not managed to persuade them to nest here but each year they appear more interested in my pseudo colony (CD and old ghetto blaster), which as after almost 3 springs of constant use, is now sounding a little crackly and distorted. I hope they move in before I have to buy a new CD player.

This last month has been my busiest of the year with outdoor walks on Tuesdays, Wednesday, Saturdays and some Sundays. In between I've been linking in with local "Friends of" groups around Leeds, and Leeds City Council's Parks and Countryside, and I'm hoping to have some great things to tell you about that in the near future.

We were blessed with good weather for our annual trip to Suffolk this year, so the spring has had its highlights. With 119 species under our belt after 3 days, we had a lot of great memories to take back with us and some quality birds to brag about when we got home. Here are just a few of the best (well, the ones I managed to photograph).

Hobby at RSPB Lakenheath, Suffolk

Red-footed falcon at RSPB Lakenheath, Suffolk

Egyptian goose at Lackford Lakes (Suffolk Wildlife Trust)

Turtle dove at Lackford Lakes (Suffolk Wildlife Trust)
Little tern at RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk

Spoonbill at RSPB Titchwell, Norfolk

Since then I've visited Teesside; Gallows Hill in Otley; Middleton Woods in Ilkley; Breary Marsh and Paul's Pond in Leeds; RSPB Leighton Moss and YWT Adel Dam. The woodlands have looked spectacular over last couple of weeks. There have been so many more woodland plants than normal and such depth of colour and contrast between the fresh green of ferns coupled with blues, yellows and whites of spring flowers.

Bluebells at Middleton Woods, Ilkley

Last week I attended the official opening of RSPB St Aidan's reserve which was attended by representatives from Leeds City Council, UK Coal, RSPB and many volunteers and interested parties. It was a rainy day but the downpour abruptly ended with the speeches and we were able to take a stroll around the reserve (not my first but my first official stroll). Black-necked grebes are currently present on the reserve and we could hear cuckoo and bittern quite clearly.

Black-necked grebe at RSPB St Aidan's

It has been great spending time with local wildlife enthusiasts over the last few days - the Wyke Beck Valley Pride event last Sunday and Monday was particularly enjoyable and it was good meeting the Friends of Gipton Woods in Leeds last night.

I'm just off to Northumberland for a 3 day trip so I'm crossing my fingers that we have good weather.

Watch this space for information about my next trips and enjoy the sun while it lasts.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Spring migrants are like buses

Hello birdwatchers

Spring migrants are like buses this year - one minute you can't find one and then they all come at once!

It has been a fantastic couple of weeks in the world of birds. Chiffchaffs and willow warblers are just about getting settled; blackcaps seem to be paired and looking for nest sites and whitethroats arrived earlier last week.

Today I had a bumper spring birdwatching day although the weather was rather dull and overcast.

Apart from one last indoor class on 9th April, all Start Birding evening classes have now moved outdoors. I look forward to many wonderful spring and summer evening walks until indoor classes start again in September.

So far in April we've visited Harewood Estate to watch red kites, tawny owls and roding woodcock; the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to practise our bird songs and calls; Kirkstall Abbey and Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve to look for spring migrants, and RSPB Fairburn Ings to find garganey and cuckoo. At the weekends we have visited Skipwith Common; Bretton Country Park and Spurn Point.

Wheatear at Spurn Point
Avocet at Kilnsea Wetlands, near Spurn Point
Female reed bunting at Skipwith Common

Grass snake basking in the sun at Skipwith Common

Frogs at Skipwith Common

Grey wagtail at Bretton Country Park

Tuesday morning classes have continued with trips to Knotford Nook; Rodley Nature Reserve; Roundhay Park and Meanwood Valley.

Water rail on the River Aire from Rodley Nature Reserve

On Tuesday 16th April, I gave a short talk to the Friends of Middleton Park and I'll be leading a 2 hour birdwatching class there on Sunday 12th May from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Survey season has started and so far I've participated in the survey of RSPB St Aidan's and completed the first visit of one of my BTO Breeding Bird Survey squares. This will continue over the next few weeks.

May is always an exciting month for birders and this month is no exception. We have finally heard the news that RSPB St Aidan's will open on Saturday 25th May after a long delay. An interim visitor centre has been erected and birdwatchers will now be able to enjoy an uninterrupted birding feast from Swillington to Fairburn. No more looking through a mesh fence like a child peering through a sweetie shop window. Last week I watched a bittern flying full length of the reserve while doing the survey and I look forward to sharing the reserve with you when I lead a birdwatching class there on Tuesday 11th June. Please call to book as places are limited.

That's it for now as it is a busy time for birders. I find it hard to find the motivation to be indoors writing blogs when there are many more daylight hours to explore the wildlife of Leeds. Please contact me with your sightings, including any sightings of winter species that are still lingering in and around Leeds (yes those waxwings have been seen right up to the end of April) and I hope to see you soon on one of my trips.

I leave you with photos of more birds seen recently at Rodley Nature Reserve. Rodley is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Female bullfinch

Male bullfinch