Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Guess what I spotted...

The weather today (20/06) was nice and sunny again so I decided to take a walk this afternoon. I wanted to stay local so I headed down to the Conon River. I took the route of the Lady's Walk which takes you West up along the Conon River and starts at the Drouthy Duck, the local pub.

I parked in the small carpark and straight away I could see a group of young Blue Tits flying around the trees and 3-4 Willow Warblers. It was a great day to be out and everything was in full bloom and buzzing. I made my along the track under the railway bridge where there is a small group of large Larch trees, one which had snapped in half years ago. I got a brief glimpse of what I thought was a medium sized bird, brownish in colour and assumed it was a Song Thrush. Then the bird popped out of nowhere and landed on one of the Larch branches not 3 metres in front of me. I knew straight away what it was, a Spotted Flycatcher! My first ever and I was so pleased as it was nice to see something new and so close to home. As I watched the bird it was joined by a second bird, a pair! I watched them both for a good 30 minutes getting great views as they flew in and out of the big broken Larch and hopped off branches catching beakfuls of flies.

Carrying on with my walk the path takes you out of the trees and alongside a field. You can usually walk through the edge of the field but a new fence has been put up and a new path has become more obvious although it is currently very overgrown.

There didn't seem to be a crop in the field it was full of Clover, Red Clover, Buttercups, Oxeye Daisies, Dandelions and some stunning Poppies. Plently of Swallows flying over the field catching insects and a group of young Goldfinches begging for food in a large Oak tree was nice to see. After several hundred metres the track goes back down to the river edge and I spotted an Oystercatcher on one of the shingle banks calling repeatedly and a Grey Heron flying upstream. There were also Chaffinches, Robins, Blue Tits and more Willow Warbler song coming from the Alder trees. Further along again where the river splits to create Dunglass Island I found a Common Sandpiper on a different shingle bank on the far side and it was probing in and around the water's edge for food. I took a few moments to sit in the sun and watch it as a pair of Bullfinch landed in the tree above me.

A Buzzard and a Red Kite gave pretty good views over the adjacent fields as I decided to make my way back along the way I came. I was actually pretty keen to get back to the Spotted Flycatchers to see if they were still there and they were! I enjoyed them for a further 20 minutes before heading back to the car. It's always great to see something new but it's even better when it is just down the road from where you live, a very enjoyable afternoon.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Well I have finally finished college, the work load got pretty intense towards the end but it's all done now and I can look forward to the Summer (if we ever get one) and planning for Finland at the end of August.

First of all an update on the situation in the garden. The Blue Tits that is wrote about HERE hung on for a couple weeks after and I saw adults coming and going but it was fairly irregular and finally I think they gave up as nextdoor's cat was too much for them. One morning I opened the curtains to the cat sat on top of the nextbox with it's paw in the hole. I would be lying if I said I didn't hate the damn things.

The small area of wildflower planting that I carried out a few weeks back is doing ok but again half of it is still looking pretty bare because the damn cat keeps shitting in it and digging it all up. Maybe I can persuade it somehow to go play nearer to the main road.

There have been plenty of young birds around and feeding in the garden including, Rooks, Starlings, Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbirds, Greenfinch, Sparrows, Great Tits and Chaffinch.

Young Starling
It's also nice to see up to 12 Swifts at a time over the house and Red Kites being mobbed by Common Gulls is a frequent sight now as they are protecting their chicks at the small breeding colony down near the Conon River.

With college finished for the year it was nice to have the time to go for a walk yesterday (18/06). The weather has been fairly miserable lately with the last couple weeks being very gloomy with lots of drizzle, definately nowhere near as much rain as parts of the South however.

I decided to take a walk down at Ferry Point and along the shoreline as it is a good couple months since I had been down there and as you can imagine quite a lot has changed. I decided to park at the small carpark as you come into Dingwall and walk down the path between two fields for a bit of a change.

As I walked down the path towards the shoreline I didn't really see much apart from plenty of Cow Parsley and a couple of Blue Tits. When I got to the bottom of the path there some clumps of Thrift or Sea Pink (Armeria maritima) at the top of the bank looking quite good in the sun.

Armeria maritima
I found a nice place to sit for a few minutes and scan out accross the water and the sandbanks as the tide was out. Quite a few Lapwings flying about and the usual Herring and Common Gulls. A large bird came flapping into view on the far side of the water. It landed whilst pushing a Herring Gull away from a fish that it had not long caught. It was an Osprey and it was now happily eating a free lunch but too far away for a picture. I made my way right along the top of the grass bank and I could hear plenty of Willow Warblers and spotted a few Greenfinch and Goldfinch in the Birch trees.

A bit further along there were 2 or 3 Sand Martins flying low over the water and back and forth to the steep bank where the earth has been eroded away and where they are nesting. I tried hard to get a decent picture but they were just too quick.

The best of a bad bunch.

Three swans then swam round the corner and into view, making their way towards the central sand bank. My first thought of course was Mute Swan but they didn't look right and a quick check through the bins revealed them to be 3 unseasonal Whooper Swans. One of them was was ringed with a metal ring on the left and a yellow darvic ring on the right but it was too far away to read it.

I carried on further round where the path heads away from the shore and round the back of small reed bed. Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Blackbird and Swallows were seen on the way with various Gulls and Carrion Crows. I walked behind the reed bed across a small bridge over a stream and round to the otherside. Whilst crossing the bridge which goes under and through some dense small trees I heard a bird calling loudly and repeatedly. As I looked around I managed to spot it, it was a Common Whitethroat and it was only a few feet away giving fantastic views. The call was very harsh and scolding and it jumped about from branch to branch calling continuously. It looked like a young bird to me.

Common Whitethroat.

There was also a family part of Wrens in the same tree giving good views but far too fast for a decent photo. I carried on further admiring the Bluebells and Lesser Stitchwort (can you tell I have been doing flower ID quite a lot recently?) and out into the open. I stopped for awhile to scan around and spotted a lone Oystercatcher. I noticed some pretty dark rain clouds in the distance so I decided to turn back. Just before I did I spotted a large bird coming towards me and I knew it was an Osprey. The bird flew right over my head and I managed to get a few record shots. One thing that surprised me was just how long the wings in relation to body size.

Heading back round to the reed bed I could hear a Reed Bunting calling and after a couple minutes a male hopped out of the dense reeds to sit at the top of one giving great views but just out of range for my camera although I did try.

Male Reed Bunting
As I made my way back towards the turn back through the fields another scan of the firth produced a group of Canada Geese a first for the year and part of the group that regularly spend their summers around the Cromarty Firth whilst they go through their moult. I counted a total of 36 overall.

On the last stretch back to the car I noticed a small bird up ahead fly up and over into the ditch that runs alongside the path. When I got a little bit closer I could see it was a male Common Whitethroat with a beakful of insects but it flew off pretty quickly.

Overall it was a very nice walk and well spent could of hours. It was nice to see the changes since I last visited and some new arrivals in terms of birds. Let's just hope the decent weather continues for awhile at least.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

South of England Tour

The last few weeks have been pretty intense in terms of college work with not many opportunities for birding. So last week has been an interesting break and an opportunity for some birding down in the South of England as I went on my college tour for 2012.

We were based in a small campsite called Bishop's Green Farm just South of Newbury in Hampshire and toured throughout the South of England undetaking various site visits.

Day.1 - On Monday morning the first bird I noted was a white bird which looked like it was circling over a nearby field. A check through the binoculars revealed it to be a Tern. Later on in the week I took a walk to check it out and it turned out to be a Common Tern which was fishing in a nearby pond and continued to all week.

Common Tern
Throughout the day various woodland birds were seen and of course my first Magpies of the year. A bird easily seen all over the place down in the England but hard to see in the Highlands back home. There were also two which frequented the campsite throughout the week.

On Monday afternoon I also heard my first Cuckoo on Middleton Estate near Andover but as hard as I tried I just could not see it. I would hear a total of 5 Cuckoos throughout the week which I did not see any but it is a great feeling to know that they are there somewhere.

Day.2 - Tuesday was a whole day spent down near Lyndhurst in the New Forest. I was very excited about this trip as I knew the range the birds I had a chance of seeing. In the morning I saw my first Blackcap of the year with a range of other common woodland birds. Unfortunately being in quite a large noisey group and not moving around through the forest too much I wasn't able to see much of significance. We spent lunch on a  large common which I forget the name of where there were numbers of New Forest ponies all over the place. As everyone was eating lunch I had a look around for a bird I had a good feeling I would find here and not two minutes later I found it, a Green Woodpecker! Another bird which I cannot see back home and one I had wanted to see for awhile. It was feeding on the grass for a few minutes before flying off.

Green Woodpecker - New Forest

In the afternoon as we made our way through part of the forest we came accross an area teeming with butterflies with plenty of Pearl-bordered Fritillary a species I hadn't seen before.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary

In the evening after returning from the New Forest and after something to eat, I decided to have a look round some of the small woodland blocks surrounding the campsite. As I was making my way quietly through the woodland a group of 5-6 birds landed in the trees and started flitting around. A closer look revealed they were Nuthatches! I was so pleased as this is another bird I can't see back home and it was brilliant to see them. It looked like a group of juveniles with their parents.

Day.3 - On Wednesday we had two visits, one to Bathhurst Estate and one to the Nation Arboretum at Tetbury. At Bathhurst in the morning I had a great view of a Great Spotted Woodpecker on a nearby Oak tree. In the afternoon a range of woodland birds were seen throughout the Arboretum including more Nuthatches and plenty of Swallows and House Martins flying over the wildlife meadow they have created there.

In the evening after returning to the campsite. I visited a site I had previously researched called Greenham and Crookham Common which was a 25 minute walk North of the campsite and South of Thatcham. The common was previous an RAF airbase and has been converted back to mixed woodland and heath. I have to admit I did hear several birds that I hadn't heard before and didn't recognise as my song knowledge isnt great. I did however see my first Common Whitethroats of the year, Meadow Pipits, Lapwing, Kestrel, 2 x Green Woodpecker, Skylark and a pair of Stonechat another year first. Unfortunately no Dartford Warbler which I was hoping for and I had to leave before it was the right time for Nightjars but still a worthy trip and the common is really impressive.

Day.4 - Thursday was spent at Langley Wood National Nature Reserve and we were shown around my Natural England's Stuart Hailes who is the senior site manager and he explained some of the woodland management they are undertaking and the problems involved. Also with him was a volunteer Sue who showed a stunning Poplar Hawkmoth which she had caught in her moth trap the previous night on site. Birds were fairly thin on the ground in terms of something special but plenty of common woodland birds singing. The real though were the invertebrates throughout the wood. Plenty of Speckled Yellow moths flying around and I managed to capture this stunning Femal Broad-bodied Chaser.

There were also plenty of Beautiful Demoiselle flying about a drain running through one of the sites that had been previously felled including one that I spotted egg laying in the water.

Female egg laying.
Day.5 - Friday started with some amazing views of 3 Red kites on the adjacent field to the campsite. The grass had been cut the previous day and I suspect they were scavenging for some decapited small mammals.

In the afternoon nothing new was seen or heard in terms of birds apart from a pair of Mistle Thrush and a stunning Brimstone butterfly was seen flapping along a woodland ride and another first for me.

So overall it was a very interesting week, some new birds and year ticks for me but also a lot of new plants and invertebrates I had not seen before and would only get the chance to see that far South. A total of 52 bird species was seen and 8 butterflies plus two moth species I hadn't seen before.

In other news it looks like I will have the chance to undertake part of my degree in Rovaniemi, in Lapland, Finland. Words cannot describe how exciting I am and it hasn't even really sunk in. Apart from all the great things I can see and do the thought of seeing new birds in a new country like Finland is really exciting! And maybe I can complete a lifelong dream of seeing a Great Grey Owl. Still lot's to organise and research but I have been accepted so I will let you know what happens nearer the time.