I try to avoid too much political comment and opining in this blog, but just occasionally I stumble across a piece of corporate loopiness which makes me spit feathers and has to be commented on… . So apologies in advance, but here goes.
I’ve never had much respect for marketing, it seems to me it’s simply a way to convince gullible people to part with their hard earned cash for something they don’t need and may not even want. And today whilst looking for some gloves I came across this description for a pair of convertible mittens on the website of an internationally well known purveyor of sports equipment:
“Designed for standing at post on big game drives in cold weather. Also suitable for hunting migratory birds.”
Also suitable for hunting migratory birds. Really?! I’m sure I won’t be alone in finding this piece of marketing nonsense completely bonkers. Will someone really read that and think to themself “I must buy those because if I don’t I’ll be less well equipped to shoot a willow warbler”?
And to illustrate my point, here is a small selection of our migratory birds:
Migratory bird 1 – waxwing
Migratory bird 2 – fieldfare
Migratory bird 3 – short eared owl
Frankly, I’d rather have cold hands.
But in the interest of fairness I must point out that I contacted the company to voice my disquiet and they came straight back to me to say they had passed on my concerns to the relevant people within the organisation. So now I’m waiting see if anything changes… . I’ll let you know what transpires.
Last year I went to Rutland Water to see osprey, but the real stars of that day were this pair of great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus, Dansk: toppet lappedykker) performing their courtship ritual.
Many birds have sophisticated courtship displays and the grebe is one of them. They paddled away from each other then turned about and paddled rapidly together:
And when they met they reared up and neck sparred after they had both reached down into the water and plucked a beak full of weed to offer as a gift to their partner.
I’d never seen this display before and paddling furiously to stay high in the water this pair put on a terrific display of mutual weed waggling.
And it seemed to pay off as they were still paired up after all the frenetic courting activity…
The ospreys were magnificent but this humble pair of grebes stole the show!
Driving around the countrside at this time of year the hedgerows are full of red haw berries and rose hips, which in turn means that they’re full of our Scandinavian visitors, redwing and fieldfare. But every now and again, when the winter weather’s particularly brutal in Norway we get a visit from the most spectacular visitor from that part of the world, the waxwing…
Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus, Dansk: silkehale)
Last year, they were here making the most of a long hedgrow full of rosehips, at least it was full of rosehips when they arrived, but after a couple of weeks the hips were somewhat diminished.
A pair of waxwing harvesting rosehips on the Cambridge Science Park
I think of these birds, with their prominent crests and beautiful colours as being our birds of paradise and there are few that I enjoy photographing quite as much, and not least because they also have a distinctive song, particularly when they are singing together in flocks.
And the inevitable consequence of a diet consisting solely of bright red rose hips
A couple of weeks a go I was on an early morning train heading out across the Fens near March in Cambridgeshire where I saw a group of 30-40 cranes in a field next to the train line. I’ve only ever had one fleeting glimpse of a common crane in the UK before so it was properly exciting to see such a large group of these statuesque birds. So much so that two days later I drove to the vicinity of the first sighting to see if I could find them again. And after a little driving around this is what happened…
14 common cranes (Grus grus, Dansk: trane)
These 14 birds were part of a group of 19 that flew right overhead and it was a quite incredible sight! According to the BTO the common crane is amber listed after being hunted to extinction four centuries ago. It has recolonised East Anglia naturally since 1979 and according to the Weekly News from BirdGuides a record 54 pairs of an estimated 180 birds were counted this year in the UK.
After this sighting I headed on to the Ouse Washes where this group formed part of a larger group of 40-45 birds, so I saw approximately a quarter of the UK population. They were too far away to get a photograph but captivating to watch in the distance through binoculars. They were a mile or so off to the left and straight in front, several miles away, was Ely Cathedral:
Which even though it was made by humans is also a majestic site on a sunny morning across the flat expanse of the Fens.
As well as the ducks in the previous post, other water birds were in abundance at Rutland including the coot (Fulica atra, Dansk – blishøne):
A coot returning to the nest to incubate its single egg
And the great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus, Dansk – toppet lappedykker):
But the one Rutland migrant I really wanted to see was the osprey (Pandion haliaetus, Dansk – fiskeørn). The osprey makes the monumental migration from sub-Saharan west Africa every year to breed in the UK and one of the locations it regularly breeds at is Rutland Water. And I wasn’t disapointed:
The osprey takes 3 weeks or so of flying time to get from west Africa to the UK and according tho the BTO can cover up to 430km in one day. It stops off en route for a couple of weeks to refuel on its way south, but only for a few days when heading north to try to arrive early at the breeding grounds. It’s a fishing eagle which plucks fish out of the water of lakes, rivers or coastal seas, but alas I wasn’t lucky enough to see one hunting. Despite the lack of hunting activity, as this was the first one I’d seen in England (I’d only ever previously seen one at Loch Garten in Scotland) this was very special indeed!
Posted in Birds of prey, Eagles, Lakes and rivers, Migrants, Rails and crakes, Rutland Water, water birds
Tagged coot, great crested grebe, migrant, osprey, Rutland Water
I like ducks because they’re often easy to find, often colourful, and therefore also relatively straightforward to identify. And I always prefer it when I know what I’m looking at.
Last April (2017 that is) I spent a really gorgeous spring day at Rutland Water which is about 45 minutes north west of Cambridge and is an enormous U shaped reservoir and nature reserve. There was lots of wildlife to see including ospreys(!) of which more in a later post. But first off I wanted to post this picture of the humble gadwall (Anas strepera, Dansk – knarand). At a distance on a dull grey winters day they can appear drab – understated even – the duck equivalent of an ‘LBJ‘. But on a bright sunny day when they reveal themselves in all their finery I think they’re really handsome birds:
A pair of gadwall – the male on the left and the female on the right
Being springtime the birds were also feeling fruity and this blackheaded gull was being a tad over ambitious when he tried to surprise his lady while she was perched on top of a narrow post:
Amorous, but ultimately unsuccessful, black headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus, Dansk – hættemåge) on final approach
Not surprisingly all he ended up with was somewhere to perch
A pair of tufted duck (Aythya fulligula, Dansk – troldand)
Tufted ducks are a species of diving duck which are resident here throughout the year and are relatively unfussy about their habitat, so consequently they’re fairly ubiquitous in this part of the world. They also have a prominent crest which unfortunately neither of this pair were displaying. But as with a lot of ducks, easy to see and easy to identify.
Back in January there was a report of a great grey shrike at Wicken Fen and I’d never seen one before so I decided to go and have a look.
A distant tree across the reedbeds through the thick early morning mist
It was a very grey morning and not really one of those that gives me high hopes of seeing much wildlife, but the shrike put in the very briefest of appearances, probably less than 2 seconds, so short I couldn’t photograph it, but it was a striking bird! It was bigger and paler than I thought, and with its piratical black eye stripe it was completely unmistakeable. And despite my initial pessimism there was lots of birdlife around that morning.
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris, Dansk: sjagger)
The Tower Hide at Wicken Fen is usually a good place to survey the area and see the local birdlife, and as the shrike had appeared very close to it I climbed the stairs to see if it would reappear and pose for a portrait. Unfortunately it didn’t, but all the following pictures are from the top of the Tower Hide:
Redwing (Turdus iliacus, Dansk: vindrossel)
The redwing and the fieldfare are winter visitors in the UK, making the flight here from Scandinavia as the weather turns cold there for the winter.
A pale male bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Dansk: dompap)
This male bullfinch may have appeared a little more washed out than he actually was. Or he may have been a youngster or waiting for some warmer weather to change into his sumptuous breeding regalia.
Long tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus, Dansk: halemajse)
A kestrel (Falco tinnunculus,Dansk: tårnfalk)
The drops of condensate clinging to the twigs around the kestrel give a fair indication of the prevailing weather – it was very cold… and very damp!
Posted in Birds, Birds of prey, Falcons, farmland birds, Fens, Garden birds, Migrants, Migration, Ornithology, Songbirds, thrushes, Wicken Fen
Tagged Aegithalos caudatus, bullfinch, falco tinnunculus, fieldfare, kestrel, long tailed tit, Pyrrhula pyrrhula, redwing, Turdus iliacus, Turdus pilaris, Wicken Fen, winter migrants
I love watching flocks of birds in the air. There’s a drama about them and it’s also an opportunity to see big numbers of wild creatures at the same time. Last winter (2015-16) a flock of 30-50 yellowhammers appeared in a hedgerow close by where I live, I think they were attracted by the cover provided by the hedgerow and the presence all around of low vegetation which offered ground cover and feeding opportunities. They were in a place where I hadn’t seen yellowhammers for three years or so, so it was really good to have then back.
A female yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella, Dansk: gulspurv)
The yellowhammer is red listed in the UK due to declining numbers as a result of habitat destruction (the number of times I have to write that is becoming increasingly worrying), but this year, after an initial estimate of 40-60 birds, I saw the whole flock in the air on Christmas Eve morning as I was walking the dog, and there were approximately 100 of them. (I spent several mornings trying to get a good yellowhammer picture to illustrate this post but they were never quite so amenable again, so the one above will have to suffice; lovely bird, the image less so, but you get the picture, as it were).
Later on Christmas Eve we drove to Northampton for the evening and on the way there, over the A14 near Huntingdon, a large flock of hundreds of lapwing (Vanellus vanellus, Dansk: vibe) took to the air from an adjacent field, and I think it’s the largest inland flock I’ve seen for many years. I’ve seen big flocks around the coast more recently, but not inland. And then, just as I thought, ornithological speaking, that things couldn’t really be bettered, a starling murmuration (Sturnus vulgaris, Dansk: stær) swirled over the western end of Stanwick in Northamptonshire and I estimated there must have been thousands and thousands of birds in it. And that’s one of natures truly amazing sights. Three spectacular flocks of increasingly endangered bird species was a wonderful way to start Christmas!
Posted in buntings, farmland birds, Flocking birds, Ornithology, Songbirds, Waders
Tagged Emberiza citrinella, Flocking birds, histon, lapwing, murmuration, starling, Sturnus vulgaris, Vanellus vanellus, yellowhammer
This is the last post from my trip to Rainham Marshes, and as I promised in the last one, here are a selection of the best short eared owl shots from that day. The shorties are winter visitors to the UK from Scandinavia so the east coast is a good place to look for them, and it was a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, as numerous owls were flying past at very close range, making it pretty easy to get some good pictures as they quartered the reedbeds and the beach:
These are my favourite images from that trip to the marshes of estuary Essex and it was a tremendous way to spend a day, all rounded off with the best display of owls owls I’ve ever seen. Hope you like them too! And as this is my first post of 2017, a belated happy new year to you all too
The terrain at Rainham Marshes is fairly varied with beach, river, lakes, reedbeds, scrub and grassland amidst the industrial conurbation of the Thames Estuary. And with varied terrain comes varied birdlife including wader, ducks, birds of prey and passerines:
A lone black tailed godwit (Limosa limosa, Dansk: stor kobber-sneppe) amongst a group of teal (Anas crecca, Dansk: krikand) at the lakeside with reedbeds in the background
As well as godwit a small flock of lapwing (Vanellus vanellus, Dansk: vibe) would occasionally lift of the ground as an alarm was raised over some perceived threat, circle around for a minute or two before returning to where they were flushed from. I’ve seen that kind of behaviour before in response to the sighting of a predator such as a peregrine falcon, but I didn’t see any predators of that ilk so maybe an unseen ground predator such as a fox was in the vicinity.
And across another section of reedbed was the raised Eurostar train track and a transport depot full of trucks just beyond
And I love this image of another stonechat craning from the top of a bulrush to keep a wary eye on what we were up to:
We had heard a report that at the far end of the reserve toward the landfill hill there were short eared owls in the area, and later on in the afternoon we decided to wander down that way to see if we could find them. And it didn’t take long…
Short eared owl (Asio flammeus, Dansk: mosehornugle) patrolling the reedbeds
And that heralded the start of probably the best display of owl activity of any species that I’ve ever seen. And I’ll post some more shorty pictures next time. But isn’t this guy a beauty?!
Posted in Birds, Birds of prey, Ducks, Lakes and rivers, Ornithology, Owls, Rainham Marshes, reedbed, UK wildlife, Waders, water birds
Tagged Anas crecca, Asio flammeus, black tailed godwit, ducks, Essex, Limosa limosa, Rainham Marshes, Saxicola rubicola, short eared owl, stonechat, teal, Thames estuary, waders