birdwatching

Back to Nonsuch Park: Twitching Challenge Round 4

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A bit of a belated post as I’ve been busy lately (see next post!), but I headed back to my old local park to walk my mothers dogs (on 23rd March), and while I was there I though I’d do my first twitching challenge in a while. Here are the results of round 4…

  • Woodpigeon (sound, sight) – 2 points.
  • Coal tit (sight) – 1 point.
  • Magpie (sight, sound) – 2 points.
  • Green woodpecker (sight, sound) – 2 points.
  • Carrion crow (sight, sound) – 2 points.
  • Great tit (sound) – 1 point.
  • Chaffinch (sight, sound) – 2 points.
  • Ring-necked parakeet (sight, sound) – 2 points.
  • House sparrow (sight) – 1 point.
  • Robin (sight, sound) – 2 points.
  • Wren (sight) – 1 point.
  • Blackbird (sight) – 1 point.
  • Greenfinch (sound) – 1 point.
  • Great spotted woodpecker (seen, heard) – 2 points.

Total: 21 points. Not bad for an hour while walking the dogs, and not having been to Nonsuch park in a while. Although it is spring and there were a lot of birds around – I heard a lot more, but there are still a lot of bird calls I don’t know, so I guess its a sign I should be trying to learn more! Until next time…

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Twitching Challenge Round 3

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It’s time for round 3, here are the results…

  • Blue tit (sound) – 1 point.
  • Woodpigeon (sound, sight) – 2 points.
  • Chiffchaff (sound) – 1 point.
  • Magpie (sight, sound) – 2 points.
  • Green woodpecker (sight, sound) – 2 points.
  • Carrion crow (sight, sound) – 2 points.

A respectable 10 points carries on the trend of beating the previous weeks’ scores. Pretty happy with the Green woodpecker spot and managing to recognise its call, but the cacophany of different bird songs in the park is still so overwhelming it’s hard to pinpoint ones I’ve only learnt recently or am still trying to learn. I’m also happy I’ve managed to identify the blue tit by its alarm call, which is  a similar “churring” sound to the magpie’s so I’ve never managed to identify it before.

Twitching Challenge Round 2

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It’s well past time for round 2 of my Twitching Challenge, so here are the results…

  • Carrion crow (sound, sight) – 2 points.
  • Magpie (sound, sight) – 2 points.
  • Woodpigeon (sight) – 1 point.
  • Song thrush? (sight) – 1/2 point.
  • Chiffchaff (sound) – 1 point.
  • Blackbird (sound) – 1 point.

So a total of 7 1/2 points leaves me just about beating my score for round 1. The half a point for the song thrush is because I was 90% sure, but it was only around for a second before it flew off so I can’t be 100% sure. The chiffchaff is frustrating me a little as I can hear it everywhere, but its so hard to see one! I think I need to start taking some binoculars out with me… It also started raining half way through, and apart from anything I hadn’t brought much in the way of protection from the elements for my camera so I didn’t hang around for too long – I’ve learned quite a few more birg songs using the Chirp+ app, so I know round 3 will be more successful, I can feel it already!

Trail Cam Times

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A couple of weeks ago I left my trail cam set up on a bird feeder in the apple tree in my garden, and for a week I’d totally forgotten about it. Some 6000 photos and videos later (it was rather a windy week, so the majority were of leaves…) I’ve managed to sort through, identify all the birds, and begin to put it all into a video which I will put up soon on my videos page. Unfortunately my trail cam is a bit faulty and doesn’t record sound, which is a shame – I would have loved to have heard some of the exchanges around the feeder – but nevertheless there was a fair bit of interesting behaviour and a diversity of species that I didn’t expect from my garden, so all in all I’m pretty happy with the results!

The species I had visit the feeder include robin (including juveniles, which I never realised had such a beautiful plumage), dunnock, blue tit, woodpigeon, magpie, greenfinch, a juvenile goldfinch, a family of great tits and a charming family of house sparrows who I’ve grown to love. As you can see in the video the sparrow family often feed together, and it looks like the parents brought up 3 chicks. They rarely ever bring all 3 to feed – usually just 1 or 2 – and although the juveniles are clearly capable of feeding themselves they do tend to act a bit spoilt from time to time and complain until the mother feeds them. The other interesting thing I noticed is that the juvenile robin (or robins) doesn’t appear to like landing on the feeder for long if at all; it sometimes even hovers by the feeder to feed.

Today I spent a lovely afternoon chasing foxes around my neighbours’ front gardens and taking photos of them (the foxes, not my neighbours). While I realise I do probably look like a bit of a weirdo, luckily the foxes were kind enough to stick to areas away from people’s windows so it didn’t look like I was taking photos of people inside their homes. I managed to get a nice photo as one poor fox was startled by the sight of me peering at it from behind a bin – a behaviour, you might say, echoes the typical behaviour of the urban fox!

The Birds and the Bees

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As spring moves into summer in the UK a few things start to happen. Firstly, I remember that I have hay fever and start to hate all flowering plants, which is usually about the same time as the second thing: beer starts to taste better when its drunk outside. Then, while sipping said beer, through my blurred and itchy eyes (from the hay fever, nothing to do with the beer) I start to notice the diversity of life that the warmer weather brings, and I decide that actually my hay fever isn’t that bad after all.

Last week I began my mission to improve my birdwatching skills, with the first of what will from now on be a bi-weekly Twitching Challenge. The rules are simple: 1 point for a positive identification of a bird species by sight, and 1 for identification by sound, and I have 1 hour (or an average walk around the park with my dogs) to ID as many species as possible…

My first challenge started well, almost too well – I’ll definitely have to learn some new birdsongs or get some binoculars to beat this score. Here’s my scored card for this week…

  • Robin (sound) – the unmistakeable tinny song of the Robin can be heard in parks and gardens all year round, and Nonsuch park is no exception. 1 point.
  • Great tit (sound) – another easy one, the “tea-cher, tea-cher” call of the great tit is one of the easiest bird calls to learn. 1 point.
  • Carrion crow (sight, sound) – “caw, caw!”. 2 points.
  • Woodpigeon (sight) – unfortunately I didn’t hear it call, I was excited to test out what I’d heard on the BBC Wildlife Magazine podcast and identify the woodpigeon by listening for it supposedly saying “my toe IS bleeding”, gotta love a great mnemonic like that! 1 point.
  • Chaffinch (sound) – the song of the chaffinch that ends in a sort of bouncey phrase has been bugging me for a while, until I heard it on the Radio 4 Tweet of the Day and realised what it was. 1 point.
  • Greater spotted woodpecker (sound) – a distant echo of the distinctive sound of the greater spotted woodpecker drilling into a tree. 1 point.

So a total of 7 points for this week, which I think is pretty respectable for my first attempt. I’m sure I won’t hear a greater spotted woodpecker every week, so I’ve been learning some new songs and calls for next time – we’ll see in a couple of weeks how much I can remember!

The other exciting thing thats happened recently is that a colony of bumblebees seem to have built a nest in the eaves of our house. My mother and our neighbours were a bit concerned watching the “nest surveillance” behaviour, which consists of about 20 or so bees doing what is described in an article on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website as an “aerial dance” around the nest. It took me a while to identify them as I couldn’t get a clear photo, but it turns out that its the tree bumblebee, a species common to most parts of Eurasia and becoming quite widespread in the UK since it was first seen here in 2001. The nest surveillance stage has stopped for about a week or so now, but if I sit in my garden and watch the eaves I can see the workers coming too and from the nest to forage, and it makes me smile to know that I’m sharing a home with these furry little insects – especially considering that most of their family are in dramatic decline. If you do see tree bumblebees in your garden, you can do what I did and take part in some citizen science – add some data to the research being done by the Bee, Wasp and Ant Recording Society by recording your sighting here.

Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)
Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)

Results!

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So last week I heard back from UWE about the results of my MA interview and… I was successful! There’s not much else that I can say at this point apart from the fact that I’m obviously really excited, and if you want to hear more about how the course is you’ll have to stick around and try not to get bored of my blog before I start the course in October!

Other than that, last week was my training for my new job fundraising for the RSPB down in Hove – a fun 3 days learning about some of the fantastic work the RSPB do, practising trying to persuade members of the public to sign up, and finishing with a visit to Pulborough Brooks to see some of the resultsof successful conservation. Pulborough Brooks is a reserve down in East Sussex, and it has some really nice wetland, woodland and heathland habitat bursting with life – the sounds of nightingales (amongst a chorus of other birds) followed us down the path, and a young rabbit sat grazing not 2 metres from us as we walked by a clearing in the woods. By far the best thing about our visit in my opinion though, was a large pool in the middle of the wetland area of the reserve, alive with a diversity of  bird species using the water in different ways. Mallards and shelducks bobbed along the surface, house martens swooped down to catch insects flying above the water, Canada geese sat in the surrounding foliage, a lapwing waded in the shallows; all centred around a small island where a solitary spoonbill stood preening itself, occastionally stumbling down the banks to feed – walking awkwardly as it moved its head from side to side.

Now until recently I’ve never really been much of a bird watcher, but I’ve been getting into it a lot more and I’d like to get better at identifying different birds. So, starting next week I’m going to set myself a challenge: every fortnight I’m going to go down to Nonsuch Park and identify as many birds as I can by both sight and sound, trying each time to identify more than the time before. Hopefully this will motivate me to improve my bird identification skills, as well as learn some of the bird calls and songs I don’t know. So far, apart from the obvious pigeons and crows, I only really know the robin (because I see them so often), the chiff-chaff (its call is its name), and the great tit (sounds like its saying “teacher”), so I’ll have to get listening to more BBC Radio 4 Tweet of The Day to expand my knowledge of the aviary lexicon, as it were.

A Bit of Birding in Nigeria

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Lagos is a busy port on the coast of one of the worlds fastest growing economies. Nigeria has been coined a “MINT” country, and its former capital and largest city is said to be the second fastest growing city on the African continent. But does this buzzing metropolis leave room for any birds to live among the chaos?! Absolutely.

I’ve spent this last 10 days with my family, visiting my father who lives on Ikoyi, one of the island areas on the coastal side of Lagos lagoon. When you think about living in the middle of a big city, you don’t usually think of there being a great deal of birdlife, but sitting out in the garden of my father’s house is actually really fantastic for catching a glimpse of some West African avifauna…

The first thing you notice as you look up is the sight of several birds of prey spiralling on warm vents across various heights in the surrounding sky. At any one time you can usually spot about five silhouettes of Black Kite, although the most that we’ve seen at one time is fourteen, which I find incredible considering the pollution and business of the city. What my father and I suspect, from looking at certain places where the Kites tend to fly around, is that they are using the warm air rising from generators behind people’s houses (in Nigeria the mains electricity isn’t 100% reliable) to glide from, and it means that the skies above areas with a lot of houses are filled with the distant seagull-like calls of the Kites from high above.

Every so often the relative peace and quiet of the garden is interrupted by the typically tropical, “gobbling” call of the Western Plantain-Eater, usually as a pair flies across to perch in one of the higher trees of the garden. Feeding on fruits and seeds, this member of the turaco family can be identified by its bright yellow, curved and long tail when perched, or by the white band across its tail when in flight. Quite a common bird across West Africa, I really enjoyed hearing the occasional “gobble” as they flew past while I was sitting by the pool – if I closed my eyes I could almost have been deep in the rainforest!

The most common of the birds in my Dad’s garden is what I think is a Red-Eyed Dove. While there were quite a few that visited the garden throughout the day, I have to say that as a result of my not being as interested in pigeon species as other birds, and that there are a lot of quite similar-looking pigeons and doves, I can’t be entirely sure of the species. What interested me more was a bird that my father said he had heard but never really seen that lived in a particularly large and thickly foliated tree, which sufficiently aroused my curiosity to the point where after it was mentioned I didn’t really sit still until I know what it was. After about an hour of taking blurred photos on a borrowed camera without much zoom, I finally managed to get a clear enough shot to identify the African Thrush. Quite a dull-coloured bird apart from its bright orange beak, what made the African Thrush stand out for me was the range of different songs it had, which helped me to confirm its identity by matching the sounds to the ones on a nifty little app I found called Bird Calls (by XLabz Technologies). The app was really helpful – you can search by country and then there are usually a few different calls or photos from a few different locations for each species, and I would highly recommend for anyone like me who is new to birdwatching.

Last of the identifiable avian visitors whose time coincided with mine in my father’s garden was a single Little Egret that checked us (or more likely the pool) out briefly before flying away, a nice little treat on my last day before flying back to the UK. We did see an owl one night while out for a midnight swim, but a combination of the darkness, my poor eyesight without my glasses and few glasses of wine meant that any attempt to identify it was shortlived…