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Friday 12 December 2008

Alvecote Pools on 6th & 7th December, 2008

On Saturday 6th I went to Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire, for a couple of hours to try and locate the redhead Smew that had been reported there. With the help of some local birders, this was not difficult, although the bird was very distant.
Having observed this bird for some time, we were heading back towards the road when a couple of drake Goosander flew in - a nice end to the morning!
I was so taken with this place, and the friendliness of the local birders, that I decided to return for a full day the following day. There were not so many wildfowl around, probably due to the clay pigeon shoot that was taking place in a field over the road from the pools. However, the company was just as good as the previous day. One of the highlights of the day was being introduced to a 'working' Harris Hawk.

Harris Hawk

Thursday 4 December 2008

Cannock Chase on 3rd December, 2008

It was such a lovely day, that I realised I needed another day off from the decorating, and so I decided to seek out the Waxwings that had been seen for the past few days on Cannock Chase. I arrived there to find several other people trying to find them at the point where they had been seen. However, apart from a passed-on report that three had been there early in the morning, there was no sign of them. Good numbers of Blackbirds, Redwing, and Fieldfare were very active in the immediate vicinity, and Kestrel, Buzzard, and Green Woodpecker were also seen - but no Waxwing. Contenting myself with some photos of Fieldfare and Redwing, I left at approximately 14.00 after three hours waiting. I later found that the Waxwings showed up about an hour after I left.



On the way to Cannock Chase, just before Lullington, I came upon a female Kestrel on a post. My camera was already at the ready beside me, and so I wound the window down and took some safety shots during which the bird flew on to the next post. I then attempted to draw up a little closer, and only got one shot off before the bird flew off, away from the road. The results are far from good, but I am rather fond of these birds for some reason, so I publish one of the results here.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Barton-under-Needwood on 2nd December, 2008

Attracted by the reports of the Cattle Egret at Barton-under-Needwood, I took a break from decorating and had a ride out there in the afternoon. I had not been there for more than about 15 minutes when it flew in. I went again the next day to see if I could get some better photos, but at 15:00 I was told that it had not been seen all day. However, I did find myself interviewed by Radio Derby while I was there.

On the way back home, I dropped into Croxall Lakes. Although there was nothing of major interest there, as far as I could see, there were plenty of birds to keep me occupied. At one point, a busy flock of Redwing made their way through, feasting on the abundant crop of berries beside the railway. I managed a photo of one of the few (2?) Fieldfares that were about in the fading light.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Staunton Harold on 25th November, 2008

I felt the need for a short break from decorating today, and so decided to take advantage of the sunshine for a quick trip to Staunton Harold Reservoir. I arrived at the Round Car Park to find all the places next to the wall occupied, and a huge amount of seed and nuts on the wall. Fortunately I did not have to wait beyond 10 minutes before a suitable place became available. I quickly dived in and sat in my car, window open and camera at the ready.

There was the usual mix of birds, but I was surprised by the huge number of Collared Doves (didn't count them, but maybe around 40). What I was really delighted to see was more Tree Sparrows than I have ever seen here before (I would guess at least 30). However, what exercised me most was a couple of Nuthatches. Occasionally they would arrive at the same time, and then there was quite a lot of agression shown. Frustratingly, the sunshine vanished about 10 minutes after I got into position.


Tree Sparrow

Sunday 2 November 2008

My Garden on 1st November 2008

Earlier in the week, I was delighted to see a pair of Willow Tits at our garden feeders - a first for us. They have been back since, and it seems that they are now regular visitors. On this day, one of them decided to take a drink from our bird bath, visible from my study window. It was dull weather and the shots were through the double-glazing, so the results are not so good, but I was not going to miss an opportunity to record this event.

Friday 31 October 2008

Leash Fen on 22nd October, 2008

Prompted by reports of Short-eared Owls in this Derbyshire location, I took a break from my decorating task at home and set off for Leash Fen in the early afternoon. I found the place quickly enough (at about 15.00), and another birder parked beside the road. However, Leash Fen covers quite a large area and, after more than an hour and nothing but crows being seen, I decided to leave the comfort of my car and take a walk eastwards along the road. I came across Ian Hurst, who was a regular visitor to see the owls. Ian gave me the low-down, and so I went to fetch my car so that I could sit comfortably whilst waiting. On the way to the car, a female Kestrel obligingly flew past at quite close range.

Common Kestrel (female)

Having repositioned myself, it was not long before the first Short-eared Owl appeared (at approximately 17.00). Almost immediately there were two - then three - and then a Kestrel mixing in with them. For the next hour, the birds put on a great show, during which they succeeded in putting up a couple of Jack Snipe that flew almost directly over our heads.

Short-eared Owl

As it started getting dark, the birds moved a bit further east from our position and started settling on posts and stone walls on either side of the road. Unfortunately it was somewhat too dark for any reasonable photography by now. However, it had been an amazing evening.

Short-eared Owl

Monday 27 October 2008


In late September, my wife and I took a short holiday in Colorado, USA. Although not a birding trip, I took a number of opportunities to look for birds and other wildlife. The weather was unseasonably warm, and it seemed that many summer birds had already departed, but the incoming migrants had not yet arrived. Nevertheless, some interesting birds were seen, and the other wildlife was great.

Colorado Monument
On Saturday 20th September we took the California Zephyr train for the scenic 8-hour journey from Denver to Grand Junction, through the Rockies. Little identifiable birdlife was seen except for a small flock of American White Pelicans (not photographed) as we passed the lake at Windy Gap, near Granby.

Colorado Monument on Sunday 21st September

This day we set off to visit the Colorado Monument. We had not gone far before we saw Mourning Doves. As we left Grand Junction a Great Blue Heron flew across in front of us and then an unmistakable Bald Eagle flew past us at altitude (the only one that we were to see).
Colorado Monument

We entered the Colorado Monument and were soon enjoying the fantastic scenery. We stopped at the very useful Visitor Centre and then, beside the car park, found a Western Bluebird – an amazing bird that looks very grey and drab until the sunlight catches it in a certain way and then it suddenly becomes brilliant blue with an orange breast. This is because of selective light reflection, rather than light absorption. I got several photos of the bird in non-reflective mode, but nothing that showed its true blue glory.

Western Bluebird (female)

From the Visitor Centre we took the relatively short Alcove Trail (designated a nature trail). As we joined the trail a Cotton-Tail rabbit crossed in front of us, and ‘hid’ under a bush at some distance. There were some Robber Flies about which looked and sounded a bit like dragonflies in flight, but looked very handsome, if a little sinister, when they settled.

Mountain Cottontail

Robber Fly

Soon we were seeing a number of lizards of various species (I have attempted to identify these but am no lizard expert so any input would be much appreciated). The first, a lizard with a striped back, I believe to be a species of Whip-tailed Lizard, but I can find no reference to a lizard with this few stripes - the Plateau Striped Whiptail is said to have 6 or 7 pale stripes, not the 4 that this had (perhaps it was a juvenile PSW?). This is the only one I saw, so I give you the best of a bad bunch of photos.

Whip-tailed Lizard species

Prarie/Plateau Lizard

I am not particularly interested in plants, but do have a passing interest in cacti, so was pleased to find Echinocereus Triglochidiatus.

Echinocereus Triglochidiatus

There were a couple of Western Scrub Jays seen (but not photographed), and several LBJs (little brown jobs) which seemed to be hiding from the sun in dense cover. With a total lack of experience of American birds, the LBJs were as good as impossible for me to identify.

I attempted to photograph a hawk (unidentified) that passed by at some distance but my camera had gone faulty just before the holiday, with insufficient time to get it repaired, and so had a tendency for the lens to electrically uncouple itself from the body, thus rendering autofocus and light metering non-functioning. The temporary solution was to give the lens a gentle twist until it connected again, but grabbed shots were virtually impossible to achieve for the whole of the holiday.

About half-way along the trail a Chipmunk (possibly Cliff Chipmunk) was seen scampering along the edge of a rock ledge, and then stopping under a bush.

Chipmunk (possibly Cliff Chipmunk)

At one point my wife was (unusually) just ahead of me, and suddenly put up a Hummingbird which hovered noisily for a split second and then shot off, never to be seen again (in spite of hunting for it for half an hour). It was all over and done with in maybe half a second. I did not notice any colour tendencies, so do not know what species it was, but I think that Broad-tailed Hummingbird is most likely.

Prairie/Plateau Lizard

Plateau Striped Whiptail Lizard

After this walk, we got into the car to explore the scenic qualities of the Monument from the various viewpoints. From these we saw Turkey Vultures and American Kestrels in the distance. There were also plenty of White-throated Swifts around.

At the southern end of the Monument we found what I believe to be a Hopi Chipmunk, Echinocereus Triglochidiatus forma Inermis, and some evil looking wasp-type insects which were killing caterpillars very much larger than themselves and dragging them down holes in the ground.

(probable) Hopi Chipmunk

Sagebrush Lizard

Echinocereus Triglochidiatus fa. inermis

Cricket sp.

'wasp' with caterpillar

Prairie/Plateau Lizard

At one stop we found a flock of about 20 LBJs which were constantly and noisily on the move (a little after the fashion of Long-tailed Tits). I believe these were Bushtits. I attempted to photograph them but they were in shadow, and moving fast, so the results were not good.


Turkey Vulture

Shortly after exiting the Monument we came across some Mourning Doves on a wire beside the road at a place that I could park, and so I managed a few shots in the low evening light.

Mourning Dove