Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pits, tits and funny sparrows

A few days off work and a trip up to Kay's homeland of South Yorkshire gave me more time than usual to get out and about, even if just for a couple of hours at a time. It was only afterwards that I realised the sites I visited were all connected with the coal mining industry that once dominated life here.

In Treeton, Kay's home village, the pit closed down years ago and the old coal tip has reverted to nature. There's a walk on the edge of the village leading through hawthorn scrub to a small marsh and then a river, now running clean again. Even though it was only a few hundred yards long an early morning walk produced jays, bullfinch - better heard than seen - a snipe, kingfisher and a mixed flock of 30+ tits. The light and views precluded most decent photos, but I did like the way this low light shot of the long tailed tits turned out

There was plenty to see beside the birds, including this near perfect comma butterfly, the sadly rampant himalayan balsam covered in bees (mining the admittedly gorgeous flowers!) and fungi.


Himalayan Balsam

Shaggy Inkcap

A trip to the RSPB wetlands reserve at Old Moor, near Barnsley, the pools formed by coal mining subsidence proved less successful for seeing the waders, but then it helps if you remember your telescope! Still provided half decent views of snipe, golden plover, etc, and some action when lapwing flocks numbering hundreds were spooked by a peregrine. These wigeon were about the only wetland birds in camera range, although you can probably see the snipe with the eye of faith!



My main reason for going however was to see the tree sparrows - apparently the biggest UK colony now, with 63 pairs having up to 3 broods each this year. Didn't make them any more prepared to pose for the camera though, this being the best effort.

Even the usually reliable feeding station failed to turn up a single sparrow, but it was better than expected for other birds - I'd never seen bullfinch on a feeder before, and the grey partridge were also a bonus.

Bullfinch - male (above) and female

Grey Partridge (above) and Common Pheasant
Ducking out of a trip to the Doncaster Outlet Village I took the chance to visit the Wildlife Trust reserve of Potteric Carr a few minutes away, and was amazed at what I found. Birch and mixed woodland grew on the old colliery waste next to the railway, and subsidence had again returned the land to pools and marsh.

Well worth a further visit, especially as I didn't get to see the lesser spotted woodpeckers. I'm assured this was a willow tit, but it wasn't singing so I've taken that on trust - one day I'll have the confidence to separate willow from marsh tits on sight!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Little Grebes? Little b*****rs more like

When I was growing up they were dabchicks. I've been away from birding for a while, and having started again I found that everyone calls them little grebes now. I even began to doubt myself, but then I had a brainwave. Sure enough on checking my AA Book of British Birds (that's right the one with the owl on the front - copyright 1969) they were (are) dabchicks.

Actually Birds Britannica (a great read around the subject of birds in the UK, rather than a manual of drawings pointing out that this wader has a pale supercilium, that one a marginally more pot-bellied profile) says that an old Orkney name was 'little footy-arse' which sounds a much better bet overall. It's because the feet are right at the back end you see. In fact as the book points out the grebe family are collectively podicipedidae from the latin podex (rump) and pes (foot), so they are all footy arses one way or another. Great crested footy arse, Slavonian footy arse, etc. Red necked footy arse sounds more like a disease than a bird, but it's so much more descriptive.

There are quite a few at Newport Wetlands, one of my local patches, and over the last year I've got quite fond of them in a love-hate kind of way. They're always active and so they are good to watch especially when feeding their young............

but I find them so twitchy to photograph - especially now the reeds have got so tall it's nigh on impossible keep below the skyline and still see the water. For a start they never stop moving, and when they do see you they either dive and disappear, or just as frustratingly point that tatty rear end towards you, so that all you see is a bum sticking up in the air - not even a tail to speak of.

BB says they hide below vegetation with just their bills above the surface, but I have yet to confirm this!

As time has gone by I've got a few snaps, but not as many as the time commitment should justify for such a common bird, and none of them to the standard I would like - if you want to see a really good shot go to Chris Grady's site, wildlfe imaging (see links), and look at the food-pass shot. Talk about a picture telling a story .......

So if you are ever at the Wetlands and you see a sad soul clutching a camera and cursing as a little bird sticks out it's bum before disappearing into the reeds you've probably found me and can claim your £50 prize by saying the words "You look like a footy arse fan, and I claim my prize". Then again if you've guessed wrong be prepared to duck.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The ultimate nestbox

We have a decent garden - not too big, but plenty of shrubs and mature climbers. We thought we had done everything right. We chose a good range of nest boxes, we found good spots in the garden, east or north facing, some in the open, some hidden. We kept the garden just a bit untidy to make it wildlife friendly. And so where did the birds nest? On or in the house.

The house sparrows did best with at least 6 broods this year. One in the eaves, four in our two 'sparrow terraces' and unfortunately one pair knocked through two old house martin nests to make a twin room sparrow des res, much to the distress of the returning martins. There's been some recent discussion about the use of terraces, and particularly whether sparrows will nest that closely together. Most people seem to report just one pair in a terrace at any one time. We did have a pair at each end of one terrace, but never in adjacent compartments, so separate nest boxes are probably a better bet.

As well as doing our bit for the disappearing house sparrow (we have dozens if you want some!), two very vocal broods of starling were brought up in the eaves.

Jackdaws got into the chimney for the second year running despite a cowl on the chimney pot, by going through some sort of a gap at the side - with no head for heights I haven't been up to have a look. Someone told me each pair can put a wheelbarrow full of sticks into a chimney, so if and when we ever do light a fire it should go up like a millennium beacon (remember them?).

You can tell when the youngsters are fledging because they start bashing their wings against the metal cowl as soon as it gets light, saving us the hassle of an alarm clock, whether we like it or not.

The best news came after the sparrows in the old martin nests fledged. Within days a pair of martins were back, and two weeks ago the youngsters left us. You can see the second nest below and to the left - we couldn't tell if the martins split the property back into apartments.

So there you go. Don't worry about the garden, just leave a few holes in the house, an open chimney and you'll soon be doing your bit for nature!