As I am currently somewhat restricted on my birding activities I thought I would take Stephen G Hipperson’s advice in my last blog and do some garden birdwatching. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic I have been used to making do in this way at various times in the last two years. In this blog I present a short video of birds I have seen in (or over) my garden during the lockdowns.
Let’s hope that as the year goes forward, as much as I have enjoyed seeing and photographing these birds, we don’t have the same restrictions again.
After a drab morning at Chew Valley Lake where the best I saw was a great crested grebe, several snipe, a jack snipe and a pair of distant marsh harriers I moved on to the nature reserve on the disused airfield at Weston-super-Mare.
I was hoping to see the penduline tits which I have never seen and which had been reported here recently. There was a fresh breeze and it was very cold but I was encouraged by the excellent light. However, for the first hour I only saw reed buntings and stonechats. My patience was well rewarded , however, when two penduline tits appeared and stayed around feeding on the bull rushes until I felt I could take no more photos.
I was quite excited by this addition to my life list but my exaltation was rather tempered by the fact that I tore my achilles tendon (which had been sore for some time) slopping around on the muddy path and limped back to my car in some pain.
I ended last year with a trip to Slimbridge and started this one to the same venue as, with a short break in the gloomy weather, I knew we would be bound to see a wealth of birds.
I saw a group of birders looking at something near Slimbridge but only realised when I returned home that they were looking at a glossy ibis. A chance missed. Nonetheless, there was plenty to keep me happy before the rain came back. We loved seeing the big flocks of godwits, wigeon, pintails, lapwings, curlews and golden plovers but the focus of my camera was on the ruff, which I don’t see often, and some white fronted geese.
We were beginning to get cabin fever after a day or so of rain and so this afternoon we took a chance and drove half an hour up the road to Slimbridge to get a bit of exercise and some air. We were so lucky as the rain stopped and the sun shone for an hour.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many birds in one place. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop being able to take a free pick The huge flocks were quite spectacular in the sunshine and I didn’t know where to aim my camera.
I had no intentions of bird photography today but when I could make out the silhouette of a peregrine falcon on the spire of my local church from my lounge window (half a mile away) I could not resist taking a closer look. Unlike us, at this time of year, the peregrine wouldn’t be facing the prospect of leftovers.
We are having a short stay (short in time rather than distance) in Scotland. We are staying just over the border at Glencapel, a few miles south of Dumfries on the River Nith.
There are two very good bird reserves nearby: the WWT reserve at Caerlaverock and RSPB Mersehead.
We stopped off at Kendal in the Lake District on our journey north but we only had glimpses of the beautiful scenery as the weather was not kind to us.
We had a recce around WWT Caerlaverock on our arrival and were not only rewarded by seeing the large flocks of barnacle geese and Whooper swans but saw some birds we don’t see at home, in particular yellowhammers.
Our second day in Scotland we visited RSPB Mersehead, the other side of the River Nith on the edge of the Solway Firth. They have maintained a mosaic of wetland habitats on the reserve, including wet grassland, open water, ditches and reed swamp. This part of Scotland is suffering from bird flu and it was very sad to see dead carcasses of geese. Whilst the risk to people from this disease is very low, there are biosecurity measures and signage in place on the reserve for visitors to try to help prevent further spread amongst wild birds.
Although the star features are the barnacle geese, lapwing and pintails we also enjoyed seeing siskin and twite -birds we rarely see close to home. We also had a very close encounter with a roe deer.
Our holiday cottage looks out on to the River Nith and the Kirkconnell Merse Nature Reserve on the far bank.
As I was trying to focus on a curlew one of our friends (a top bird spotter) with whom we are staying was gesticulating from the window and, when we could make out what she was saying, we realised that there was a peregrine falcon on the far bank with its prey and a red kite on a nearby post looking to plunge in, if given half a chance. Quite a drama pursued with the peregrine and the red kite taking to flight and even another peregrine appearing.
We eventually tore ourselves away and went off to the Caerlaverock Wetland Centre just down the road.
Again the barnacle geese and the Whooper swans were the highlight but we also enjoyed seeing close up lots of other birds such as fieldfare, redwing and blackbirds making the most of the luscious haws, the fruit of the hawthorn.
On the ponds there were wigeon, teal, shelduck, pintail, tufted ducks and snipe. Along the lanes we also saw treecreepers and out on the wetlands another peregrine.
On the way home we stopped briefly to visit Caerlaverock Castle and then along the banks of the River Nith to see redshank and curlew feeding on the mudflats.
Back at the cottage I couldn’t resist taking photos of the spectacular sunset.
Today, our last day in Scotland, the weather has closed in and I am taking the opportunity to write my blog before the long journey home tomorrow.
Just as we were packing the car up to return home there were a couple of extra sightings (3 golden eye and two litle egrets) on the River Nith in front of the cottage as well as a huge flock of barnacle geese which filled the sky and then landed on the reserve.
There were glimpses of sunshine as we started our walk in our local park but it soon became gloomy and rain threatened. The kingfisher, our local celebrity, (and the magic of Adobe Lightroom) persuaded me it was worth publishing a blog.