Tag Archives: Nature

An unusual but entertaining day at work

Earlier this week I was learning about a technique called ‘dynamic light scattering’ (DLS) which is used to determine the size of very small particles, even those as small as protein molecules. My teacher was a scientist called Ken who designs and builds DLS machines. It came up in conversation that he lives close to the southern end of the M40 corridor where I’ve seen lots of red kites and read stories of them stealing food from people, so I asked if he sees them in his neighbourhood.

Red kite (Milvus milvus, Dansk: rød glente), this one was at Hamerton in Cambridgeshire

Red kites are big, distinctive, birds of prey and they’re a conservation success story in the UK, having been almost driven to extinction but then reintroduced in the 1990’s since when their numbers have rocketed. And as it happens they are very common indeed in that part of the world and Ken kindly agreed to upload this video clip to You Tube so I could post a link to it here. This all happened in Ken’s garden and I think it’s highly entertaining stuff,  I think I’d struggle every morning to get out the front door to go to work if I had this kind of show going on in my garden!

Later on, at the end of the same day, a big flock of a few thousand starlings were murmurating over the Cambridge Science Park as I left work to come home. I was keeping one eye on the starlings and one eye on the road when I stopped at a red traffic light on the edge of the Science Park and the starlings were swirling and wheeling around the sky just in front of me. Then a sparrowhawk drifted by but the starlings carried on murmurating until the hawk suddenly accelerated up towards them. Then all of the flocks shrunk down into very tight groups and focussed on taking evasive action. It was a piece of natural theatre going on in the sky which was spectacular to watch. Then the traffic lights went green and I had to move on so I didn’t get to see the culmination of the chase, but it was a captivating end to the day.

Advertisements

Ever the optimist

The font of all wisdom in my area for what birdlife is around is the Cambridge Bird Club ‘What’s About‘ blog. A short while ago there was a report of a sighting of a bittern at one of my regular nature walks, Milton Country Park. This was an exciting development because I’ve never seen a bittern before, so on the following Saturday morning I set off before dawn to be in situ at sun up to try and see it. The bittern (Botaurus stellaris, Dansk: Rørdrum) is a small brown heron which lives in reedbeds and is so perfectly camouflaged it is almost impossible to find until it breaks cover. It’s famous for the ‘booming‘ call of the male which can be heard up to 1km away, so I set off hopeful of not only seeing one but maybe hearing it boom too. Ever the optimist!

The conservation status of the bittern in the UK is red, meaning it is scarce and under threat. Alas, the chap I was hoping to catch a glimpse of was very scarce indeed, to the point of being completely absent. Oh well, next time maybe. But every cloud and all that, even though the bittern had absconded there was other birdlife in abundance.

And not only birds, snowdrops were blossoming on the forest floor

The Country Park is made up of old gravel or quarry pits surrounded by a mixture of grassy scrub and mature woodland. Up in the treetops great spottted woodpeckers were hammering holes…

Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocops major, Dansk: stor flagspætte)

I think this one is a female – the male has a red patch on the back of his neck which I think was absent on this one. The woodpeckers drumming sound results from the frequency of drilling rather than the power. They have energy absorbing tissues in the head to prevent brain damage and they strike at a frequency of 10-40 times a second which makes the tree trunk resonate, and that’s how they create their unique sound. Treecreepers were spiralling up these trees too, but they were just too quick to get a photograph.

But on the lakes there were hundreds and hundreds of water birds of all types:

Courting great crested grebes (Podiceps cristatus, Dansk: toppet lappedykker)

The full mating ritual of the great crested grebe is a wonderful sight. I’ve only ever seen it a couple of times and it involves swimming away from each other to a distance of 20-30m or so, then turning and swimming rapidly towards each other and when they meet they rise up in a vigorous display of necking before settling back into the water facing each other and creating a heart shape with their heads and necks. This is repeated mofre tha once and is utterly absorbing and delightful to watch. I was fervently hoping that my pair here were going to perform but they were content to simply preen, commune and doze. Still lovely though.

Another male great crested grebe with a pair of male pochard in hot pursuit (Aythya ferina, Dansk: taffeland)

Two male tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula, Dansk: troldand) eyeing a lady with bad intent. Love, or something, was in the air!

Both pochard and tufted duck are divers and the rapid spread of the tufted duck in the UK in the 19th century is though to be the result of colonisation of UK waterways by the zebra mussel which originates in southern Russia.

A male gadwall (Anas strepera, Dansk: knarand)

On a grey murky day the gadwall looks like a dull grey/brown duck but when the sun shines on them they are quite handsome birds, easily recognised on the water by the black rump, general brown plumage and the grey/black beak.

Coot and moorhen (Fulica atra, Dansk: blishøne and Gallinula chloropus, Dansk: grønbenet rørhøne, respectively) are both members of the family Rallidae along with water rail (which I saw on a previous recent visit to the Country Park, but not this one, even though I spent 10-15 minutes quietly looking where I saw one before) and crakes, which aren’t to be found in these parts.

The coot…

…and the moorhen

The male coots were in the mood for love and fighting out on the water on all the lakes, and were too numerous to count, and the occasional, more secretive and less aggressive, moorhen ventured into view from the reeds at the lake edges.


The brown heads are male wigeon, the black and white ones are male tufted duck, the two brown ones in the foreground are a pair of gadwall and out of focus at the back is another gadwall and a coot

As the sun came up the birds on the water semed to spring into life and large groups of various species busy feeding. All the pictures in this post were taken in a couple of hours or so from dawn until 10-11am and within a 300m radius. But as the sun arose and the light changed the colour of the water changed dramatically and gave some wonderfully varied backgrounds.

I stopped at a gap in the undergrowth to photograph the various species above and as I stood snapping the robin hopped into view between me and the water pecking at the seeds on the ground left by a benevolent walker for the ducks:

I think the most colourful, and therefore my favourite duck of that morning was the wigeon:

A pair of wigeon (Anas penelope, Dansk: pibeand), the male behind, the lady in front

The male on his own – resplendent in his psychedelic finery

The wigeon is a resident breeder in the UK and it’s conservation status is amber, which surprised me because I see plenty of them on the lakes around Cambridgeshire. They are vegetarians feeding on leaves and shoots and rhizomes, and in my view they are one of our prettiest ducks.

So no bittern on this trip but lots of other wildlife on the water and in the trees!

Sylvia – another unusual visitor

Like a lot of other folk I gave up making new year resolutions a long time ago because the resolve would normally last until the 2nd or 3rd of January before slipping quietly unnoticed into the flotsam and jetsam of recent history, never to be seen again. But for 2013 I made two resolutions – the first was to get current with my wildlife diaries which have been appallingly neglected for far too long – and the second resolution was not to condemn the first one to the black hole into which it would normally be swallowed. And so far so good, hence I’m feeling rather pleased with myself.

This years listings can be found here at ‘Histon Wildlife Diaries 2013‘ and if you notice gaps of more than a couple of weeks opening up please feel free to leave a pointed reminder that I need to get my finger out and get up to date!

As a consequence of my girded up loins and renewed efforts I’ve been spending more time peering into the garden to see which creatures are in residence. Just before Christmas I saw the first blackcap in the garden, it was a male with his coal-black cap, like a judge about to hand down the ultimate sentence, and he stayed for all of 2-3 seconds before zooming off into the sanctuary of our neighbours orchard. And of course I was very pleased with this visitation because it’s always good to welcome a newcomer.

Then a couple of weeks ago when the winter weather was at its filthiest here in Cambridge a female appeared and spent some time refuelling on my fatball feeder:


A female blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla, Dansk: munk) on the birdcam fatball feeder

The birdcam used to be around 6m away from where it is now but there were very few takers for the lardy delights on offer.  But since I moved it to its current location it has been busy every day with numerous bird species. The reason for the change is the lack of cover in the original location which left the birds exposed to the possibility of predation by the local sparrowhawk. But now they have cover within a metre or so and and I can sit and watch them all in close up on the TV. And one of the first to arrive after I moved it was my lady blackcap, who you’ll have immediately noticed has a rufous brown cap, not the blackcap of the male. The specific name ‘atricapilla‘ means ‘blackcap‘ and the Danish name ‘munk‘ means ‘monk‘. I wonder which godly habits gave him that name, or is it simply his ecclesiastical bonnet?

She arrived early on a murky morning, fed quickly and left, and that was the last I’ve seen of her. But a couple of days later a male blackcap arrived and he’s been visiting several times a day every day ever since then:


The male blackcap feeding on an old apple

I’m puzzled as to why the female has been so conspicuous by her continued absence, I guess that now the weather is considerably more pleasant she is more comfortable feeding out in the countryside.

The male doesn’t restrict himself to ground feeding on fruit but is a more regular visitor to the fatballs.

And he tops up with water too. In the picture below he is wary of the goldfinch nibbling niger seed on the adjacent feeder. He was also aware of my presence behind a glass door around 8m away and when the goldfinch disappeared he threw numerous glances in my direction, but so long as I remained still he wasn’t too bothered.

Until recently it was thought that the blackcap was a migrant breeder here in the UK and that they spent their winters in Africa, apart from a sub population that remained here in the winter. But it is now thought that all of ours overwinter south of the Mediterranean and our winter visitors are a separate population from central Europe which migrate here to overwinter. In which case my visitors will be heading back east in the near future. After that I’ll hopefully see and hear our migrant breeders out in the hedgerows where they make a distinctive call which I think sounds like someone flint-knapping.

The British Trust for Ornithology have published a factsheet about blackcaps and their migration behaviour which is worth a read. We also have passage visitors as Scandinavian birds head south and it appears that garden bird feeders are having a major impact on the behaviour of blackcaps and other species too, such as nuthatch, which are now spreading into Scotland, assisted by garden feeding and climate change.

A special winter visitor

When the snows came a few weekends ago an influx of birds came to my garden to feed up on the seeds and fatballs I put out for them. I also threw out some squidgy grapes which had been getting overripe at the bottom of the punnet. And as well as all the usual species a winter visitor from Scandinavia also appeared.

Fieldfare – Turdus pilaris (Dansk: sjagger)

The fieldfare is a species of thrush from Scandinavia which migrates to overwinter in the UK. They’re hardy, feisty birds and utterly resplendent in their psychedelic finery! I’ve seen large flocks of them flying above the countryside around Histon but rarely within the village itself. And then this handsome bird arrived in my garden to feed on the squidgy grapes.

Dismembering a grape

It finished the grapes and then took up residence under a bush in the garden and repelled all comers. Whenever another bird came within striking distance it would emerge from its refuge at speed and chase it off. Which sufficed for everything smaller than a blackbird.

After the grapes had gone I augmented its diet with some apple, which coinidentally is also a favourite food of blackbirds. And within minutes there was competition for the fruit. The fieldfare adopted a very distinctive stance when the blackbird, or anything bigger, like a collared dove or a wood pigeon came within range and several fights ensued. And the fieldfare wasn’t always the winner because blackbirds are also accomplished pugilists when they need to be. So it all worked out evens, they both got some apple and a good scrap would keep them fit too:

The’repel all boarders’ stance, wings down, tail in the air. If that didn’t suffice then all out assault ensued

The fieldfare, I assume it was the same one, appeared in the garden after first light every morning until the rain washed away all the snow and it hasn’t been seen since. At the same time the trees and bushes in the village were also frequented by the fieldfares during the snow but they all disappeared with the snow too.

Sustainability

If any of you guys emailed your MEP’s to urge them to vote for fisheries reform, all I can say is ‘Good work!’.

I picked up an email from the European parliament yesterday afternoon and this is the text:

A major reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which aims to cut fishing to sustainable stock levels, end dumping at sea, and base long-term planning on sound scientific data, was approved by Parliament on Wednesday. Overfishing is widely seen as the worst failure of the current CFP, dating from 2002. The new one is to take effect in 2014.

European Commission figures suggest that 80% of Mediterranean stocks and 47% of Atlantic ones are overfished. The reform voted in plenary sets out clear and strong measures to tackle this problem.

“We have shown today that the European Parliament is anything but toothless. We have used our power as a co-legislator, for the first time in fisheries policy, to put a stop to overfishing. Fish stocks should recover by 2020, enabling us to take 15 million tonnes more fish, and create 37,000 new jobs”, said fisheries reform rapporteur Ulrike Rodust (S&D, DE). Her report was adopted by 502 votes to 137, with 27 abstentions.

Stop overfishing by ending discards…

Discards – fish thrown back, usually because they are of an unwanted species or size – account for almost a quarter of total EU catches. Most of the discarded species die. To end this wasteful practice, MEPs voted to oblige fishing vessels to land all catches in accordance with a schedule of specific dates for different fisheries, starting from 2014.

Landed catches of fish that are undersized, for example, would be restricted to uses other than human consumption. Member states must ensure that fishing vessels comply with the discard ban.

…and respect maximum sustainable yield

From 2015, EU member states will be prevented from setting quotas that are too high to be sustainable. Fishermen will have to respect the “maximum sustainable yield” (MSY), i.e. catch no more than a given stock can reproduce in a given year. In today’s vote, MEPs sought to ensure that stocks recover by 2020 to above MSY levels and sustain them thereafter. Ultimately this should mean more fish, better catches and hence more jobs in the fishing industry.

Long-term planning to replace yearly quota-haggling

The reform will rely on multi-annual fish stock management plans to ensure that fishing stays sustainable. Taking a longer term approach should improve market predictability, which in turn should help the industry to invest better and plan ahead. Multi-annual plans will be based on more reliable and accurate scientific data, which EU member states will be obliged to collect and make available.

Next steps

Parliament will now start negotiations with the Council and the Commission on the reform plans before their second reading. The Irish Presidency of the Council has repeatedly said it hopes to achieve an agreement the end of June.

Result! And by a big majority too.

 

EU fisheries update – correspondence – 05/02/2013

As you know I emailed our local MEP’s to urge them to vote for the reforms to the EU Common Fisheries Policy and I thought I’d share a couple of replies with you.

The first is from the local Conservative MEP, Robert Sturdy:

Dear Dr Holding,

Thank you for contacting me about this important issue. We are in the midst of CFP reform negotiations in the Parliament and have a real opportunity here to ensure that we get the radical reform that we have campaigned so hard for. The Fisheries Committee has already voted on the package and the plenary vote will be February 6th. This will finalise the Parliament’s position on the CFP.

As you know, there are many issues at stake, including regenerating the ever depleting fish stocks. Two thirds of EU commercial fisheries are over-fished. Discards play a big part in this over-exploitation and the Conservatives voted in favour of an end to discards and an implementation of the discard ban. However, we must ensure that this discard ban is workable and does not end up with us moving from discarding at sea simply to discarding on land. Instead of finding new markets for the extra 1.8 million tonnes of unwanted catches, we should firstly aim to use more selective gears to keep these fish in the ocean. The discard ban should therefore go hand in hand with a tougher approach on selective gear to ensure that the unwanted catches are not caught in the first place.

The Conservative delegation also voted in favour of maintaining stocks above maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020. This will ensure that all fish stocks will have recovered to sustainable levels and fishermen will have had the necessary time to adjust to the new approach. We must work with scientists and stakeholders to come up with workable legislation that conserves fish stocks for future generations and which provides for a sustainable fishing sector. MSY will be an important factor in this scenario.

We are also fully supportive of fisheries management plans that involve all stakeholders and are based on a regional basis. We would like to see an end to the micro-management from Brussels that has bedevilled the sector for decades. Regionalisation therefore lies at the core of the CFP reform package.

My colleague, Struan Stevenson, is the rapporteur on one of the main legislative CFP reports, the Common Market Organisation and as such, he is responsible for steering this through the Parliament. The reforms contained in his report devolve day-to-day management responsibility of fisheries, introduce better labelling on fisheries products for consumers and provide a strengthened role for Producer Organisations. We received almost unanimous support at both the committee and plenary vote and are about to embark on negotiations with the EU Council and the European Commission at the end of February.

Please be assured that I fully support ambitious and radical reform to ensure both a sustainable ocean and a sustainable industry.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Sturdy MEP

I was pleased with the tone and the content of this reply as Mr Sturdy details the Conservative stance with regard to not just discard and overfishing, but technical solutions to minimise the wrong catch in the first place. Just goes to show, common sense can also inform political debate. Who’d have thought!

The second is from the representative of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) MEP Stuart Agnew:

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you for your recent email, addressed to Stuart Agnew MEP.  I am replying on his behalf.

Mr Agnew takes a serious interest in fisheries matters and has recently become a member of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee. He takes note of your views and he will be closely studying this package.

The Common Fisheries Policy has been a disaster. British fishing waters represent two thirds of the EU’s fishing grounds and were simply given away as part of the terms of our membership of the then Common Market by Edward Heath.  They were designated a ‘common resource’ to which the other member states have access, even those that are landlocked!

Best wishes,

Stuart Gulleford

Political Advisor to Stuart Agnew MEP
Office of Stuart Agnew MEP
UK Independence Party
145 New London Road
Chelmsford
Essex
CM2 0QT

Tel: 01245 266466
Fax: 01245 252071
Email: eastern@ukip.org
www.stuartagnewmep.co.uk
www.ukip.org

It appears that Mr Agnews ‘serious interest in fishing matters’ has rendered him so focussed that he completely forgot to address my point. Obviously he’s a very serious politician indeed.

Mr Gulleford completely ignored my point too, but took the opportunity to indulge himself with a little anti-European tub-thumping. You’ll notice his indignation that even land locked countries are allowed to fish in what he considers to be British waters (and I’m not sure where his assertion that British waters constitute two thirds of all EU fishing grounds originates from. Perhaps in his world Britain still has an empire and we own the North Atlantic). I wonder if he is similarly indignant about people who live in flat countries, such as Holland, being allowed to go to mountainous countries to go skiing. (May be he spends his winters at the foot of Ben Nevis with a placard with the exhortation ‘Dutchies go home – British mountains for British skiers!’  😉 )

EU fisheries update 04/02/2013 – addendum

I just found an email in my inbox from Chris Davies the Liberal Democrat MEP sitting on the EU Fisheries Committee. In it he asks us to write to our MEP’s urging them to vote for the changes to the Common Fisheries Policy in the Plenary vote on Wednesday 6th February. The debate on this is tomorrow, the 5th, followed by the vote on Wednesday.

If you follow the link lower down you can quickly find out who all your European MEP’s are and write an email to all of them. My email to my east of England MEP’s  is appended, please feel free to cut and paste if you wish, but bear in mind it will carry more weight if it is your own words.

This is the text of Chris’s email:

Vital Votes in European Parliament in February

Dear Fish Fighter

A quick note to let you know that the vote of the entire European Parliament on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is due to take place on Wednesday 6 February, following a debate in the chamber at Strasbourg the day before.

The Parliament’s Fisheries Committee voted on the issue before Christmas, and the 13-10 outcome was very satisfactory.  Amongst a number of useful proposals it was agreed that legally binding targets should be set to rebuild fish stocks above maximum sustainable yield (MSY), and to end discards by introducing an obligation to land all catches.

The vote in a fortnight will give all MEPs the chance to support or reject this package, as well as to consider any further amendments that have yet to be tabled. 

The aim of reformers is to maintain the positive momentum, and alert MEPs who may be sympathetic but rarely take regard of fisheries issues to the importance of supporting reform on this occasion.  We’re confident but certainly not complacent.

Once the Parliament has voted we expect the rapporteur (the MEP designated to take a lead) to open negotiations with the Irish deputy ambassador whose task it is to try and thrash out a deal that will be acceptable to both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers.  Compromises will inevitably be reached, but the rapporteur, German social democrat Ulrike Rodust, has done a good job so far and she will be no pushover.  Her negotiating position will be strengthened if reformers can secure a commanding majority on February 6.

I am expecting British MEPs of all political parties to be supporting the reform position on MSY and discards.  However, you might like to email your region’s MEPs and encourage them.  You can do that easily by visiting www.writetothem.com and putting in your postcode.

I shall let you know if hostile amendments are tabled, and if we need further help to try and ensure that they do not win support.

With regards

Chris Davies MEP
Secretary, cross-party ‘Fish for the Future’ group
Lib Dem environment spokesman

And my email to the MEP’s

FOR THE ATTENTION OF:

  • Robert Sturdy MEP
  • David Campbell Bannerman MEP
  • Vicky Ford MEP
  • Stuart Agnew MEP
  • Geoffrey Van Orden MEP
  • Richard Howitt MEP
  • Andrew Duff MEP


Eastern

Monday 4 February 2013

Dear Stuart Agnew, Vicky Ford, David Campbell Bannerman, Robert Sturdy, Geoffrey Van Orden, Andrew Duff and Richard Howitt,

I write urging you to vote to accept the proposed changes to the Common Fisheries Policy at the vote at the EU Plenary meeting on Wednesday. I think this is a hugely important first step towards guaranteeing longer term survival of fish stocks which is essential to protect the ecosystem the fish need to thrive and thus continue to supply humans with food.

Hopefully this piece of legislation will form part of a framework for sustainably fished oceans and thereby secure the fishing industries and livelihoods of the communities that depend on them for survival, and the associated services and businesses that support the fishermen.

Continued depletion of the fish stocks will ultimately be catastrophic for these people so I hope you will vote for implementation of the changes to prevent this and guarantee the future of all the European fishing industries.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Finn P. Holding

Mating Mutes

The sun is shining a lot now and the snow has totally disappeared. Unlike two weekends ago which was bitterly cold and the lakes at Milton Country Park were partially iced over. It’s not always easy to see all the water birds but they had been coralled into smaller areas by the ice. Ducks abounded at the park with teal (Anas crecca, Dansk: krikand), gadwall (Anas strepera, Dansk: knarand), wigeon (Anas penelope, Dansk: pibeand) and tufted duck (Aythya fuligula, Dansk: troldand) in numbers, as well as the customary mallard (Anas platyrhynchos, Dansk: gråand). There were two highlights of the trip, a goldcrest was busy hunting in a bush just a few feet away and seemed undisturbed by our presence. Goldcrest (Regulus regulus, Dansk: fuglekonge) are beautiful little birds, they are our smallest breeding species, weighing 4-7 grams, and the northern populations migrate south in winter with Scandinavian individuals crossing the North Sea to overwinter in the UK.

Mute swan pair with a male tufted duck in the background

I didn’t manage to get pictures of the goldcrest, which is a pity, but I did manage to get pictures of the second highlight, which was a pair of mute swans (Cygnus olor, Dansk: knopsvane). And if the goldcrest is our smallest breeder, the mute swan is one of the biggest (if  not thee biggest), weighing in at a hefty 10.5-12kg, and breeding is what this pair had in mind.

Mute swans pair for life and the courtship dance is delightful to watch, they gracefully circled each other, repeatedly intertwining their necks:

And the dance culminated in mating. The male climbed on board the female and grasped the back of her neck with his beak, the whole thing lasted just a few seconds, which was just as well for the lady as her head was held underwater and she actually disappeared from view.

And after mating they rose up, breast to breast out of the water and continued the necking dance:

Finally, they relaxed back into the water and finished the ritual by bobbing their heads towards each other, and apart from the mating moments the whole thing was very calm and sedate. I think mutes are simply regal, they are very big, powerful, animals and I can’t hink of any creature which is quite so pristine.

And shortly after mating the male climbed out of the water onto the ice for a post-coital stretch up to his full height and opened his wings, surrounded by a retinue of coot (Fulica atra, Dansk: blishøne) and gadwall. A fitting finale to this series of captivating natural events.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – the tally

I filled up the birdfeeders first thing this morning, made a jug of coffee, and sat in the window waiting for the birds to flock in. And very little happened. So I waited a little longer. And still nothing happened, and I put it down to the fact the sun was shining, all the snow had gone and the temperature was in double figures.

A dunnock mopping up seed scattered by great tits on the hanging feeder

Then at 9.26am a group of four long tailed tits arrived on the fat balls and from then on the birds came and went in rapid succession. So the plan was to count from 9.26 to 10.26 until at around 9.50 the dog vomited on the carpet so the next 20 minutes weren’t spent counting birds. The finish time was therefore a tad delayed, but the final counts were:

Species                                 Total counted                    Maximum number at one time

Long tailed tit                              18                                                              5
Blue tit                                            18                                                              3 Dunnock                                          3                                                               1
Collared dove                                6                                                               2
Blackbird                                       13                                                               2
Greenfinch                                      5                                                               4
Wood pigeon                                  6                                                               2
Robin                                                 3                                                                2
Starling                                             5                                                                2
Great tit                                            3                                                               2
Chaffinch                                         2                                                                1

A female greenfinch enjoying some longed for sunshine

So all in all, what with the Vesuvian intervention from the dog, it was an entertaining hour and a half.

Alas, no bullfinch, but…

The weekend before last I went for a walk around the lakes of RSPB Fen Drayton. It was a customarily grey and cold morning and there was a lot of water standing where there wouldn’t normally be. But the lakes were full of ducks, waders and other water birds and the trees and hedgerows were thronged with other birds, but alas no bullfinch. To explain, the approach road to the car park is lined with hawthorn and other trees and they are home to many bird species including bullfinch, so I was hoping to see one or two and get photographs. But on this occasion alas, they were conspicuous by their absence.

No bullfinch, but hey ho, woodpeckers there were:

Green woodpecker (Picus viridis, Dansk: grønspætte) mining ants next to the car park at Fen Drayton lakes and fastidiously refusing to look up

And the green woodpecker wasn’t the only woodpecker hanging around the lakes:

Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocops major, Dansk: stor flagspætte) patrolling the treetops

There was also great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus, Dansk: toppet lappedykker), a large flock of mixed waders including bar tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica, Dansk: lille kobbersneppe) and several flocks of greylag geese (Anser anser, Dansk: grågås). And lots and lots of lapwing:

A small fraction of a much bigger flock of lapwing, I make it 84 in this group

In the 1970’s lapwing (Vanellus vanellus, Dansk: vibe) were a common sight in the English countryside. Huge flocks consisting of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals weren’t particularly unusual. My Dad used to call them plovers, or ‘peewits’, a name they acquired because of their distinctive call. But like many species, they have suffered hugely from habitat destruction as a result of modern farming methods. On this particular morning at Fen Drayton there was at least one flock and possibly two, at opposite ends of the lakes, there were a heck of a lot of them and they were frequently rising into the air en masse. And since the snow arrived this week there has also been a small flock of 30-40 birds close to Cambridge Science Park which I spotted on my way to work, and a small group of them alighted on the field right outside my lab.

A blue tit deftly plucking seeds from a swaying reed seedhead

On the last part of my outing round the lakes I headed for a hide overlooking an expanse of water where I was hoping to see water birds. A flight of four goosander containing a male and three females flew over on the way there and seemed to be a good omen! Outside the hids this blue tit (Cyanistes caerulius, Dansk: blåmejse) was busy hopping from stem to stem in the reeds outside acrobatically harvesting the seeds.

And on the water there were A LOT of birds. The flock of lapwing higher up this post were on the ground at the far side of this lake, and the water was hosting gulls, ducks, swans and a lone heron. One of the loveliest ducks, easily identified by it’s triangular black head, white cheek spot and his regal black and white plumage is the goldeneye.

Goldeneye drake – elegance personified

There were a pair of goldeneye here, (Bucephala clangula (great name too!), Dansk: hvinand) and as with other duck species the lady is drab in comparison with the resplendent males. I spent half an hour waiting for them to paddle into the gap in the reeds just infront of this one for a clear shot. But they never did, so this is the best picture I could get. But isn’t he a beauty!