Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So Few Birds Around

There's a dearth of birds in my garden, certainly compared to the number that appear in my parents garden. Despite the cold and icy weather, there are few birds around in the garden, even though the feeder is full. A couple of blue tits, sparrows and finally a starling put in an appearance this morning. The robin has been around a few times and the blackbirds on the pyracantha in the front and back but that's it.

Either there aren't as many birds around this area or perhaps there are so many options for them, in the more densely packed gardens, that they're spread more thinly, so you see less of them.

There are now plenty of more mature - although not necessarily native, trees in the local park and up around the playing fields. Perhaps a nest box project for the local school would help. My garden is more mature than my neighbours which look relatively barren in comparison and so provides more cover and food sources. Local cats won't help and there are plenty of mine. I'll do what I can do encourage more and see if I can up the count of the local feathered population.

Has anyone else noticed a drop in numbers or is your garden full of birds?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day Birds

Three refugees (male pheasants) from the Boxing Day Shoot, out in the garden this morning. The first refugees appeared out in the front. One with a collar, the other without, pecking about under the yew hedge. Meanwhile another one appeared in the back under the seed feeder, disappeared into the hedge and then was joined by the other two, none of them getting territorial as they all wandered off together down the garden, deciding there was safety in numbers and besides, there didn't appear to many guns about in this particular patch of countryside, so they were probably OK for a while.

One had a mad five minutes when it rushed from one feeder to the other apparently chasing off the smaller birds but not too bothered by the wood pigeons, round the tree and back again with no particular rhyme or reason but then pheasants are birds of very little brain, so who knows what it was up to - perhaps practicing for the Spring when it would be impressing the girls (if there were any left after today to impress).

The same array of birds as yesterday but with addition of a small flock of long-tailed tits just passing through and a pair of nuthatches hanging upside down on the nut feeder, although you can't tell which way up they are sometimes, being pointed at both ends. Also five large wood pigeons either sizing each other up on the bird bath or chasing each other away from the key spots below the feeders. The spotted woodpecker (greater) put in an appearance too - having a good go at the nuts for a few minutes. I didn't see the male bullfinch this time but the female did appear briefly for a drink. They'd emptied the feeder by lunchtime which had to be filled again and no sooner was it back up then they were straight in to carry on feeding.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day Birds

Woke up this morning and opened the curtains to see a bullfinch sitting in the top of the crab apple tree, a jay digging about on the lawn and about 20-30 small birds in, on and under the feeders. A mixture of chaffinches, greenfinches, a robin, dunnocks and sparrows on the ground with blue tits, coal tits, great tits and greenfinches on the feeders. Flitting from feeder to bush to feeder in an almost continuous stream from one side (seed feeder) to the other (nut feeders).

A pheasant appeared to take advantage of the fallout below the feeder before disappearing off to one side and the off down the garden.

(BTW - I'm not at home but over at my parents for Christmas. Don't usually get this quantity or variety of birds in my garden.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wildlife Gardening

There's a great series on the BBC at the moment, on creating your own wildlife garden. Called Wild About Your Garden - it's the garden makeover show with a green/wildlife twist - creating gardens to improve wildlife rather purely for design, colour or function.

My tips for encouraging wildlife into your garden.

- Don't be too tidy - leave seed heads for birds and insects.
- Leave piles of logs in a corner for creepy crawlies to hide away.
- Create a compost heap for kitchen waste.
- Plant for bees - providing honey and nectar.
- Plant for birds - berries and insects.
- Provide water - even a half barrel can attract frogs and toads.
- Lawns attract more wildlife than slabs of paving.
- Provide food and water year round.

You can find out more about the series and how you can improve your garden here.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/wildaboutyourgarden/

Little Robin Red-breast

The robins are out and singing well at the moment. You can see why they're so well represented on Christmas cards, as this is the time of the year when they start sorting out their territories, so are visible and vocal when most other birds are fairly quiet and busy concentrating on feeding in the colder weather.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Invasion of Woodpigeons

I came down this morning to find five, fat woodpigeons feeding on the lawn, which is just about as much capacity as my postage stamp of a lawn can cope with. In fact if they all decided to take off at once, they'd probably collide in mid-air.

I'm not sure why they were attracted to this little patch of greenery but they seemed happy pecking away at something. My lawn isn't exactly a green swathe of neatly trimmed grass, it's a mixture of grass, clover, black medick and moss ... mainly moss at the moment, so I'm sure they found more than just grass. There are so many of them around at the moment, large flocks of them up on the fields and there are often three or four flying around nearby.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Moon and the Geminids

Friday night was a full moon and as the moon is at it's closest point to the earth in it's elliptical orbit you were in for a treat ... however, if it was anything like here, it was a wet, cloudy, windy night. It's a whole lot brighter and larger than usual being 28,000k closer at the moment. It will still be pretty impressive for a few weeks yet.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/weather/article5327206.ece

Should we get a clear night in the next few days, look out for the meteor shower known as the Geminids, which will be at their peak tonight. If you look at Orion, the Gemini constellation is above and to the left. I daresay it's going to be cloudy down here and it's certainly cold.

... and did anyone see the conjunction of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter earlier this month?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Goldcrest

A tiny little goldcrest across the way flitted briefly by for a moment. Just about had time to get the binoculars on it before it flew off.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Slash and Burn part 2

- although less of the slashing and more of the burning this time round. In fact once the fire got going we had a veritable furnace that was in danger of consuming the whole valley as it grew in width.

Back in the deep valley next to the old quarry workings and deciding just how much of the slope we were going to clear. There was plenty of scrub already cut from the previous month and we set about the old elders on the north facing slope and tackling the remaining hawthorn and bramble on the south(ish) facing slope. Not as lethal as the blackthorn but capable of scratches and punctures. Lucky yet again with the weather, cloudy for most of the day but we finished about half an hour before the showers arrived.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Slash and Burn

Spotted a little egret flying slowly across the sheep field at the top of the E-piece as a small group of us were heading down to clear the regrowth on the southernmost prong of the E. There was a lot of horse-traffic throughout the day - obviously a popular route for the local stables and they weren't too keen on the brush cutter or the fluorescent jackets.

I opted to take charge of the bonfire today, while Tim went off with the brush cutter - having cleared a way through to the old bonfire site in the second of the two cleared areas. It took a bit of coaxing but the fire eventually got going, slowly, with some blackthorn which burns well but mostly regrowth of elder and cutting back the grass, thistles and other plants that had grown up over the summer. The plan is to cut back the regrowth and link the two areas, while widening them out and keeping a flatter area of grass available. It would be great to get some sheep in there to keep the regrowth down and there's some good grazing in there for them now.

While we were having lunch, one of the team, a new member Malcolm, spotted a buzzard, hovering lazily over the edge of the E, being mobbed by crows before landing on the grass where it sat being teased by three magpies until they got bored and moved on. There was a large flock of wood pigeons feeding in the field below and occasionally a pheasant would be startled out of the scrub. Loads of them around just waiting to be shot at.

Back for another hour or so, carrying on with the clearing while I managed to get completely kippered as the smoke from bonfire was swirling around and there was no easy place to avoid it. Dump a load of scrub on and run away to avoid the worst of it. Even after a shower I could still detect aroma of bonfire.

There's more to clear next time, cutting back some of the larger scrub and opening up the area through to the cowslip bank.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Unidentified Flying Avian

My first thought was fruit bat!

What?

Flying over the coast road by Roedean? I think not.

Large, brown, curved wings ... then I saw a down-curved bill. Curlew or whimbrel? They are migrating, so could be either. Will have to check the SOS site and see what's been spotted along the coast and what's more likely. At least I know I'm not going totally mad when I see something curlew-like in an unlikely place, to know that they have been spotted around here before.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Nature Notes Is Tweeting

I'm now on Twitter, at least Sussex Nature Notes is now on Twitter. If you're into these things and want to keep up to date on this blog - you can either subscribe to the RSS feeds or follow me on www.twitter.com/naturenotes.

You'll then get a brief 'tweet' when I update my blog and can then click through to read the full blog.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Soaked to the Skin

Soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone. Rain trickling down the back of my neck, off my jacket onto my trousers and as the afternoon progressed, ended up with squelching socks in my boots. They may be waterproof on the outside but not much help when the water's got in! It was about this time that we all decided enough was enough and called it a day, especially as we didn't have a fire to warm up and steam off by.

Working up at Benfield LNR, scrub clearing and what started out as four of us, doubled in number as more hardy types joined us over the course of the morning from the local Benfield group of volunteers to supplement the SDJC group. Jan, one of the new rangers, tried valiantly to get the fire going but with so much rain, despite a few flickering flames and repeated attempts to coax it into life, and no dry wood to build up any heat, eventually gave up. Today was most definitely NOT going to be a fire day! In fact she had now declared 'fire' to be a four-letter word.

Despite finishing early, the group managed to clear two overgrown paths through the scrub, cleared one small patch of privet, ivy and bramble and made inroads into a much larger patch of privet and brambles, which at least six of us were working on after a wet and steamy lunch break in the landrover, eating our sandwiches, drinking tea and warming up before another stint out in the rain. Actually for a brief period, it looked as if the rain might actually abate but after about half an hour and it was coming down consistently and more heavily - hence the steady soaking.

The sheep currently grazing on the other side of the golf course road are going to be moved into this area fairly soon, although there's a lot more scrub to clear but every little helps and at least it's going to be grazed. There was and interesting discussion while we were huddled round the dying embers of the fire about sheep's propensity for death. Rather than doing anything about the fact that they find themselves caught in brambles or barbed wire, or on their back or side and unable to free themselves or get up, they just think "Ah well, no point living then" and die! Yep, apparently so. Bit like the fire really. However, much you try to coax it into life, it's just not interested.

Back at home and everything is dripping quietly over radiators and on doors, having already left puddles in the car where I got rid of as much wet outer clothing as possible.

Note - when working in wet, winter conditions - it's useful to have a) a towel in the car b) a change of clothes or at least a spare carrier bag or two in the car so that you can at least sit on them and save soaking into the seat as you drive home!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Motorway Wildlife

Now, I'm used to seeing assorted birds of prey alongside the motorway - kestrels are a common sight hovering over the verge and buzzards are a frequent sight in many parts of the country and as I've mentioned before, red kites are often observed along the M40 - not much chance yesterday as it was dark but as I drove back from Manchester yesterday and was driving round the bend from the M40 on to the M25 I caught sight, out of the side of my eye, of a large brown bird flapping up into a tree on the side of the road.

Now I can only imagine, it being 9.00pm, that it was an owl - definitely not a barn owl - too large and brown. I'm guessing either a tawny or perhaps long or short or maybe even a nocturnal buzzard using the street lighting for a little opportunistic hunting.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Malling Down - Autumn 08

First outing of the Autumn with the SWT and we're back working up on Malling Down around the old quarry continuing to clear the deep valley we started working on at the beginning of the year.

Much of what we cleared a couple of years ago doesn't look too bad. The flat area and the scrub we cleared has been taken over by nettles (greener patches), thistles (brown patches) and some of the scrub has re-sprouted but now it's starting to die back at the end of the year, it doesn't look quite so bad and there's a chance that grass may grow back in some areas. The bare patch in the foreground is the bonfire site at the bottom of the valley from last year.

The old bonfire site from this year, in the centre of the valley, was totally overgrown and even the stump we'd burnt out had disappeared beneath a bed of nettles. Sadly empty bottles had reappeared, so cutting down the scrub hadn't deterred the partying, perhaps they were now enjoying the improved view out across the valley.

We did get a good fire going, as there was plenty of scrub that we'd left previously to get it started and we'd had a few dry days, so it didn't take long to get a blazing fire and with several large logs around and the satisfying blaze and crackle created by a clump of bramble or ivy, it was soon burning whatever we piled on to it as quickly as we piled it on.

There was a large group out this time with about twelve of us in all, so spread around the area, working in the valley and the other side of the path, we started to make short work of the scrub. Then Gary turned up with his chain saw and quickly set about the larger trees and stumps. Felling two large bushes, well almost trees, on the left slope of the valley in a matter of minutes.

After a brief lunch break in the sun but cold wind, when we lost a few of the group (it seemed to be a day for birthday parties), it was then a matter of spending most of the afternoon dragging what had been cut to the fire. Some of it having to be dragged up and over the hill, across the path and down the gully into the valley, well, that was one way to flatten down the nettles. I also dipped out before the end as I had a seminar and trip to prepare for the following day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stunned And Bemused

Sitting quietly minding my own business, having breakfast and there's a loud thud - the sort of noise a bird makes when it hits a window with some force. I rushed into the kitchen area and peered out of the patio doors to see a small bird lying on it's back with it's feet in the air, twitching. There's a curtain across the doors so it wouldn't have seen a way through - perhaps just caught out by the reflection.

Poor little mite, it turned out to be a goldfinch. Totally stunned. I picked it up - half expecting it to expire in my hand but it sat quietly, partially conscious I should think - eyeing me up as I held it gently. I checked it's wings carefully and they didn't appear to be damaged, there were a few loose feathers around it's head. After a few minutes it started to become a bit more active - moving it's legs but still just sitting in my hand even when I opened it up. A few minutes more and it fluttered it's wings and then a couple of minutes later it flew a short distance into the bush just on the edge of the patio looking a bit confused and obviously trying to get it's bearings as it looked round and trying to work out what had happened.

I kept an eye on it - knowing that next door's cat was likely to appear and sure enough, while the bird was still sitting there, after about ten minutes one did - scrambling up the fence just by the back door. Fortunately, the goldfinch had recovered enough by now to fly off in the opposite direction as I went out to chase the cat away in case it had any ideas about breakfast. Not on my watch!

One small bird rescued - I just hope that it didn't fly off to another shrub only to keel over from delayed concussion.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Big Cat Live

Well, I can think of other things I could be doing but when it's cold, wet and windy outside I clicked on the BBC Big Cat Live website and found myself watching the live streaming webcams.

It's amazing to think that I'm sitting here watch zebra and elephants hundreds of miles away from the comfort of my sitting room - although I'd rather be out there. I've just watched a hyena family - three adults and a cub and a few birds visiting the bird table. OK, it's not non-stop action and it's been raining there too but it's better than looking out a wet, windswept garden.

It starts live on BBC today - let's hope the TV's back by then, my TV signal has gone AWOL. No doubt a problem with the transmitter, which has probably been blown away. If not, I'll just have to carry on watching it online.

BBC Big Cat Live and they're on Twitter too.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Yikes!

Now I don't really have a problem with spiders but when you come across one on the stairs that's just about big enough to climb up each step on it's own, it doesn't half give you a start.

Quickly scooped up into a nearby jar and placed in the garden - it might be a house spider but at that size it could take out a few pigeons and my woodlice aren't that big!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Motorway Nature Spotting

One of the upsides of a long drive on the motorway is that you get to see a variety of birds and knowing that my route took me up the M40, I had red kites to look out for. They're now such a common site and breeding has been so successful, that there are over 1200 pairs now in the UK and they're easy to spot on the M40 around High Wycombe.

I spotted the first bird just after the A404 junction and then a short distance further on, half a dozen circling beside the motorway, then all the way up the M40 I was spotting either red kites or buzzards, four of those in a short distance. I wonder if the tarmac provides a source of rising air, as it was a warm and sunny afternoon.

Buzzards also having a successful year, as I hadn't soon so many - at least not on that route. On a journey westwards from Brighton they become more and more frequent but not so often going northwards.

Other birds often spotted alongside motorways are rooks and carrion crows, sitting on lampposts waiting to take advantage of roadside casualities or hopping along the side of the road when the traffic is light - flying up from the road itself, kestrels also take advantage of roadside vantage points for an easy meal. Either hovering at the edge or being ultra lazy and sitting on a lamppost peering down into the verge for voles or other small creatures.

You might see a heron flying across the road - again, easy to spot with it's large wing span and slow, heavy flapping, even when seen at a distance.

Jays are having a successful year if the number of birds flying across the A3 between Petersfield and the M25 is anything to go by. I saw four in quick succession around Hindhead and several more at regular intervals. They're also easy to spot - rounded wings and loping flight pattern as they fly across open ground from one patch of woodland to another.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Female Whitethroat

Now one aspect of what I do is helping people deal with their distractions throughout the day. I have a most delightful but no less distracting source right outside my window - it's a border of buddlieas.

I'll often post here after I've spotted something out there - butterflies usually but also small birds that fly in and out and hop along the branches. Today I'm sitting watching a female whitethroat hopping about on the branches and developing seed heads of the buddliea flowers. Viewed through the binoculars (I'll probably get arrested if I get spotted) I get a great view and rather than just fly in and fly off, she's been there for a while. No doubt finding insects to eat and fuel up her southward migration.

At least it gives my eyes a break switching from the computer screen to an outside view.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Autumn Clearance

Kerrnackered - been out all day on the first scrub clearance of the Autumn with the South Downs. What a great day though! Could be the start (and probably end) of the Indian Summer we've been promised after an extremely wet and windy Summer.

Working on the Downs below the Dyke so we were in danger of being landed on by para-gliders, although if they got that close, they were going to be in really trouble and about to collide with a hawthorn bush if they were lucky, or worse blackthorn. There was a loud shout and cry of b****cks at one point as one of them nearly crashing into the trees, disappeared out of sight and hopefully landed in the field rather than the top of a tree. We didn't hear any further cussing so assume he did. There were squeals every now and then as a tandem paraglider passed overhead and at one point

Back with the usual array of scratches on the arms - it was such a nice day and very warm, too warm for long sleeves. Plenty of loping and sawing and between the five of us we managed to start clearing a new area of scrub along the escarpment. The fencing along the edge of the field has been completely repaired since I was last there and the plan is to graze the area once the scrub has been cleared sufficiently. There was plenty of Devil's Bit Scabious on the slope - although not growing as thickly as the E-piece.

A buzzard circled overhead briefly before heading off eastwards and I heard both a green and spotted woodpecker call - probably in alarm at being startled out of a tree by a paraglider! A robin came to inspect our handiwork and probably wondered where it's singing posts had disappeared to as we hacked down some rather large hawthorn bushes/trees.

Friday, September 05, 2008

How To Watch Birds - Part 6: Calls and Songs

If you can identify a bird from it’s call or song, you’ll get to ‘see’ a lot more birds as you’ll often hear them before you see them or only hear them. It’s certainly not my strongest area of bird recognition. It helps to learn the calls of the more common birds so you can recognise and eliminate them when identifying a bird.

The best way to do this is to get hold of a CD or DVD and start to recognise the common ones and the difference between their call and their song which can be simple with little difference or incredibly complex and some species will even mimic calls of other birds or sounds. Starlings are well known for incorporating man-made sounds into their calls.

Reading the description in a book rarely helps except for the more obvious ones, the cuckoo is a sound that everyone recognises. – a chiff-chaff is easy as that’s what it sounds like … chiff chaff chiff chaff and a yellow hammer’s call sounds like “a littlebitofbread and no cheeeeeesssseee” … well, sort of.

Long-tailed tits are often heard first before you see them. The high pitched tsk sound as small flocks of them flit about in the tops of trees or even around garden feeders in wooded areas. The twittering of goldfinches flying overhead is also distinctive once you’ve learnt their call.

Repetition is essential – the more you hear them, the easier they become to recognise. This is when it’s a good idea to go out with an expert.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Cuckmere, Seaford and Tidemills

An unexpectedly variable day. Starting off (after lunch in the small but now pretty expensive tea rooms) at Cuckmere with a walk down to the seashore and a few swallows still around - perhaps on their southward route from further north. There were a number of wheatears, stonechats and linnets in the scrub near the shingle. Now don't quote me on it but was it possible that I saw a Dartford Warbler down there? Something about the right size, small and dark certainly but I didn't get close enough or see it for long enough for a definite confirmation. There were also a few little egrets and herons about in the lagoon and a couple of egrets on the meanders, as well as four dabchicks.

From there we stopped off at Seaford to see the kittiwakes. There were a few still around - several adults sitting on the posts in the water and one or two of this year's pied youngsters with their black, white and grey plumage and distinctive black collar.

Not done yet the next stop was Tidemills between Seaford and Newhaven as I wanted to see what if anything was around. They recently landscaped the area although I don't think it's been set up as a tidal area there are reed beds and the potential for the shallow scrapes to be filled by water, so you never know what might be there. It wasn't until we walked down the path that I realised there was a whole village located there - built in the 1700s for the mill workers - the mill used the tidal flow (hence the name) and was abandoned in the late 19th century and mostly demolished during the second world war. There were a few pied wagtails around, dunnock and what looked like a female sparrowhawk and several dozen woodpigeons feeding on the stubble, a flock of sparrows and starlings and a kestrel hovering on the side of the road as we drove back out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Autumn Butterflies

The autumn hatching of butterflies are out. I can see four, no five red admiral butterflies feeding on the buddliea from my office window. Butterflies have been few and far between for the rest of the summer, I can't blame them with all the wind we've had but now they seem to be appearing again and I've noticed more speckled woods this year - perhaps because I now know what they are.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Not Mush Room

The field mushrooms are starting to sprout - or whatever mushrooms do. I picked a small handful of field mushrooms and puffballs last week and a few more this week. It wasn't intended as a mushrooming session, I just spotted them on my way back from my run and was a bit limited to how many I could carry in one hand or pocket and jog without damaging them too much!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Volunteering At Pulborough

First day on the job as a Hide and Trails volunteer, doing what I usually do in the hides - talking to people. To start with though, I was issued with my name badge, radio and instructions on how to use it and then off down to the North Brooks to see what was around and offer help and assistance to visitors.

Not a lot as it turned out. I was hard pushed to see a common sandpiper, although there were plenty of black-tailed godwit around and the bar-headed goose was still there. I got a fleeting glimpse of a hobby which disturbed the lapwing and geese before disappearing from view or being too far away to catch sight of it again. However, round in the Winpenny hide which doesn't usually have much of interest, I caught sight of two hobbies, off in the distance skimming over the fields and then up higher being chased by the crows. They obligingly landed on a fence post and pole giving other people in the hide a good view of them through the scope. It's one of the hides that people have a tendency to walk down to and then go no further, so it's good to have something for them to look at.

A break for lunch, comparing notes with another more experienced hide guide (Graham) and then back for round two and an excited transmission from Graham who'd spotted an unidentified wader and wanted a second opinion. The radios were useful for reporting 'special' sightings, so that the daily log book could be updated. What use I was going to be identifying the wader, I wasn't sure but I went to have a look anyway.

It had most of us scratching our heads and referencing our assorted bird books but had us stumped. It was tiny. Not only was it on the small pond several hundred feet away from the Hanger but it was small, especially when compared to the moorhen that was feeding in the mud a few feet away from it. Now, as I'll freely admit, I'm not that hot on waders - I can get the more obvious ones but the 'peeps' as they're apparently referred to, are most certainly going to boggle me, if they're bemusing the experts. It appeared to have dark legs, a shortish bill, similar shape to a dunlin and distinctive white flanks which went right up around the edge of it's wings and a buff or brownish breast down to it's legs. We pretty much agreed what it wasn't - ruff, stint, common sandpiper and narrowed it down to dunlinesque or maybe a pectoral sandpiper.

Will have to wait and see what the final conclusion is.

Friday, August 22, 2008

How To Watch Birds - Part 5: Where To Find Them

Armed with your binoculars and your bird book and having familiarised yourself with the more common birds, you can now explore your own patch.

Birds can be found in a range of different places from the seashore to mountain tops, from gardens to remote heathland. Pretty much anywhere is likely to have a few varieties of birds and it can be exciting to visit a new habitat and spot something you’ve not seen before.

Habitat is important – birds need sites to feed, nest and roost. Looking after and creating the right environment for them to be successful means looking after the plants, animals and insects that create their environment and for the migrants that applies not just to the UK where they come to breed or over winter but for the countries they pass through or migrate from.

Certain bird species ONLY live in certain habitats and that can be a good way of identifying what you’re looking at. Woodland birds in woods, water birds and waders on or near water. You’re unlikely to see a swan in a woodland or a blue tit on a sea shore, well, you might but it’s not its normal habitat. Although many birds have adapted to our environment. Sea gulls now regularly inhabit towns well away from the sea. Peregrine falcons nest on tall buildings rather than their natural cliffs.

However, there will always be the unexpected bird that turns up but that’s part of the fun of bird-watching. You’re never quite sure what you’re going to see. Birds fly, they move around, they can get blown off course when migrating, so you might just spot something unusual where it shouldn’t be. Like the bar-headed goose, recently seen at the RSPB Pulborough reserve. It’s a bird from Asia, so it’s more likely to be an escapee from the nearby Arundel Wetland Centre than one that’s been blown way off course while migrating.

Get familiar with your local environment and you’ll start to recognise the different species of birds that live there – both the residents that are here all year round and the visitors that arrive for the summer or winter. Visit your local wildlife reserves – not only will they have a list of what’s around at a particular time of year but also ‘recent sightings’ and experts on hand to ask if you’re unsure, what you’re looking at.

Before you go somewhere new – take a look at what’s likely to be in the area for that time of year. Many bird books include a map showing distribution for each bird species, so you can get a general idea of if you’re on the right track when you spot something new.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blackberrying

Went out blackberrying out on the Downs today, just close to where a friend lives on the edge of Brighton. They've been ripening up for the last couple of weeks and although many of them are still only small or in flower, there were a good few that were ripe. In fact in one place, I found so many that I picked practically my whole haul in just that patch of brambles. It took a while to find as most of the bushes we passed had already been picked or weren't ripe but the first batch has been frozen with a few saved for breakfast.

Recommended wear for blackberry picking - long trousers, long sleeve shirt, tough outer covering so you don't get scratched to bits, tupperware box to gather them in, walking stick to get to those tantalising branches with the biggest, juiciest blackberries that are always just out of reach, water to wash your hands with when they're covered in squished blackberry juice, ability to stand on tiptoe at full stretch to reach as far as you can - doesn't help being short but at least I can get the low-hanging fruits.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

August Night Sky

Far too cloudy and windy to see the Perseids on Monday but I was out later this week - picking slugs and snails (the only 'crop' that seems to be growing well this year) and after a few nights of cloudy skies, it was a clear sky for a change.

While I didn't spot any shooting stars (it's far too bright with street lights for most star viewing) I did get a brilliant view of the moon and also Jupiter with it's moons, which could just be seen through my scope, after I finally managed to get it in the scope.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Interview Day

Over to Pulborough again for an 'interview' as a Hide Guide. As I seem to spend quite a bit of my time in the hides chatting to people and pointing things out, it made sense to at least see what was involved and having enquired last time I was visting, an interview was set for today. Fortunately they don't need someone that can identify every shape, size and variation of wader but at least I know one end of my binoculars from the other and a good bird book is always handy.

I got the job and start next week on Saturday which surprisingly tend to be days when they don't get so many volunteers turning up. While I was there, I of course took a walk around the reserve. Two buzzards circling high up above the meadows and a few swallows and house martins flitting across the brooks but not much else of special note, other than the usual waders - black tailed godwits, which are slowly changing into their paler winter plumage, some still in their ruffous summer plumage and a common sandpiper, ducks and geese.

How To Watch Birds - Part 4: Binoculars And Scopes

A pair of binoculars is essential if you want to watch and identify birds at any distance. Getting a good magnification and field of view and paying as much as you can afford for a good pair is definitely worth it.

There are two numbers that are important when choosing a pair of binoculars – the magnification and the field of view. The magnification is how much ‘bigger’ the bird appears through the lens and the field of view relates to how much you can see. Ideally you want to go for as big and as wide as possible but it also needs to be manageable.

Magnification – go for x8 or x10 – these are the best for viewing birds. x10 will give you more magnification but will be larger. I’ve got a great pair of x10, which are small and easy to carry with me almost anywhere but do allow me to see that much more detail or further than the x8.

Field of view – this usually varies between 25-50mm and relates to the width of the lens furthest from the eye. A narrow field of view allows less light in and won’t work so well in low light conditions.

10x50 might be great for magnification but will be bulky and heavy to handle. 8x40 is generally a good size and weight. It’s definitely worth trying out a few different pairs to see which fits your hand, eye (especially if you normally wear glasses) and pocket (budget). A cheap pair will not have the same quality and build as a more expensive pair but you don’t need to take out a second mortgage, by choosing the most expensive pair on the market.

A spotting scope is the next level up and will greatly enhance your viewing pleasure. The difference is amazing. You can practically count the feathers on the back of a bird that is a few metres away and if you’re trying to identify a wader on the other side of a river bank, field or lake you probably will only just about be able to see it with a pair of binoculars. Magnification starts at around x15 and goes up to x45 or even higher. If you’re into photography they can also be adapted to fit your camera. Price depends on make and optical quality and you will need a tripod with a scope.

Try them out – most large centres will have these on sale and may even have a special day when you get to try and buy.

Carry your binoculars around your neck at all times when you’re out and about, not tucked away in their case or a rucksack. If you have to scrabble around for them or get them out of a bag the bird will be long gone by the time you’ve fished them out.

Now, let's go and find something to look at.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Not All Gone

I spotted half a dozen house martins flying over the sheep field near the Tye this afternoon, so they haven't all gone quite yet. Most of them seem to have headed off and those that are still around are fewer in numbers

Monday, August 11, 2008

Suddenly They're Gone

They were around on Friday but suddenly they've all gone. Out for a run this afternoon and not a swallow, house martin or swift in sight. Off to warmer climes for the winter - don't blame them. We hardly seem to have had a summer this year and with the strong winds currently blowing across the Atlantic, I'm surprised they left over the weekend.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Woods Mill

Woods Mill is the headquarters for the Sussex Wildlife Trust. It's not somewhere I visit very often, so for this week's rain soaked outing, it seemed like a good place to chose, as I hadn't been there for ages and my friend never knew it existed.

After a coffee in the local deli in Henfield, to avoid the downpour and knowing that they don't have a cafe onsite, we drove into the small car park which was about half full with a few other visitors with young children.

It's only a small reserve - or it was. Since I was last there, they've added the meadow which bordered onto the reserve and it's now expanded to almost double it's size. There's a path out along the side of the meadow which was being grazed by some very pregnant cows and the Friday Hit Squad was out manoeuvring round the path with the tractor. How come we don't get T-shirts? There was a large flock of swallows feeding over the meadow, at least thirty of them. No house-martins or swifts with them and a few little brown jobbies that disappeared into the hedgerow before I could work out what they are.

The main lake is a lot more overgrown than I remember, with reeds in the lower part, which I'm sure used to be open water a few years ago and lovely yellow water lillies on the larger area. There were a few birds skulking around in the undergrowth by the only hide on the reserve and a mosquito buzzing around inside, which I discovered later had a meal out of me, as several bites appeared on my arm. The feeders in front of the hide were empty - perhaps they only fill them over the winter and there are dozens of nest boxes around in Hoe Wood.

Plenty of butterflies and dragon flies around although most of them flitting past far too quickly to identify them.

How To Watch Birds - Part 3: Bird Books

Once you've got to grips with the easier birds, you're likely to want to identify a few more species, so having a good bird book is essential and will add to your enjoyment.

Bird books vary greatly and there are hundreds of them out there. I learnt a lot of my bird recognition from the wonderfully illustrated AA British Bird book which is probably still available and often seen in second-hand book shops and my other essential is the small Mitchell Beazley handbook, which I still have although it’s very weather beaten and thumbed now.

You could buy one that has the most common birds in it which is good to get started but you’ll soon grow out of that and if you go around the country or want to extend your skills and knowledge it helps to have one that covers all the British species and either includes European species or rare visitors and migrants that you must might see. Collins produce a good range of bird books.

Illustrations are good for the specific information and detail about the bird but don’t always look like the bird that’s in front of you (probably appearing as a speck in the distance which is moving around).

Photographs will give you an idea of what the bird actually looks like in real life but you can guarantee that the light conditions and the plumage will be different (I’ll come on to that later).

Now if only birds could learn to pose, turn, pose, stand still, front view, back view, stretch their wings out that would be great and make life so much easier. However, they don’t!

Have a weighty tome that you can refer to at home but have a smaller, light weight version that you can carry with you and flick through.

This is where practice is essential. The more you see them, the easier they become to recognise each time.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

WOW!! A Thunderstorm And A Half

Complete with a torrential downpour of hailstones the size of golf balls ... well, small golf balls, thunder, forked lightening and all. The lightening has been going for about an hour and then the rumble of thunder got gradually closer and then I heard the hail pounding against the windows. It only lasted a few minutes and the rain a few minutes more and then it's gone.

Saved me watering the garden tonight.

Friday, August 01, 2008

How To Watch Birds - Part 2: Go For The Easy Ones

Get familiar with the common birds that you’ll see pretty much anywhere.

You can start by watching birds in your garden or local park. Most gardens, even the most urban will attract a variety of birds - blackbirds, sparrows, starlings and robins will visit pretty much any garden. Woodpigeons and collared doves are also found in most places and if you put out food you'll probably attract blue tits, great tits, chaffinches and greenfinches.

These birds are common for a reason, they’re either residents – here all year round or seen in a variety of habitats. Birds such blackbird, jackdaw and crow (carrion) are all black but easily distinguishable when you know the obvious differences.

Most people can recognise a robin but may have a bit more difficulty with different varieties of tits and finches.

Here are a few to get you started. Click on the link to go to the RSPB site for an overview of each bird.

Robin - unmistakeable red breast, loud song and can be quite tame.

Blackbird - males are black, females are brown and youngsters are brown and speckled.

Blue Tit - small blue and yellow bird, often seen on feeders.

Great Tit - more black and larger than the blue tit - also seen on feeders.

Chaffinch - male is colourful, pinkish-brown front, grey head, brown back and white feathers on the wings, female is mainly brown.

Greenfinch - green as it's name implies, yellow on the wings, paler in the winter, brighter plumage in spring and summer.

Woodpigeon - large, lumbering, grey pigeon, distinctive white collar.

Collared Dove - pale brown, black neck collar, small and delicate.

Starling - short tail and wings, sharp often bright yellow beak, very glossy dark black, green, purple plumage with light speckles. Noisy and often seen in large flocks. Actually not that common - they're on the red list.

House Sparrow - males have a dark brown head, black bib and white cheek patches, darker brown on the back and paler breast. Females are paler brown without the head markings. Also in decline and on the red list.

Dunnock - brown and grey sparrow like bird. Often low in hedges and shrubs. Lovely song for a dull brown bird.

Wren - small brown bird, round shape with upright, flicking tail. Loud song and call for such a small bird.

Jackdaw - small black crow with a grey head. Not as aggressive looking as the other crows.

Magpie - unmistakeable black and white bird with dark blue and green sheen to it's wing and tail feathers.

Carrion Crow - large, completely black crow.

That's fifteen to get started on.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dead Pigeon And A Frog

I've found the remainder of the wood pigeon. Not much left of it except a pile of feathers under the buddleia. Perhaps it wasn't the sparrowhawk after all and next door's cat.

Better news, I discovered a frog in the pond. It's been very low as it's been so dry and I topped it up the other day having not seen one in there all year but peering in today and there it was. Not the large one but a medium sized one. Will keep an eye out and see if the others reappear.

I spotted a speckled wood butterfly. First, yesterday on the pyracantha outside the front window and today on the ivy by the back door. No chance of a photo, as it didn't stay still long enough but it's another variety I've not seen before in the garden and good to see another butterfly around.

A pair of small whites were also flitting around the garden for most of the afternoon but as the buddleia flowers have almost finished now they're not attracting much apart from a few bees every now and then.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Learning In The Wild

Another day out at Pulborough - two in less than a week. Different things to see and many of the usual. Taking another friend round this time and introducing her to 'nature'. She loves being outside but doesn't know much about it, so is keen to learn from me. An opportunity for me to brush up on my flowers and butterflies too.

The bar-headed goose was still around and this time I managed to correctly identify the greenshank, green sandpiper and a common sandpiper. It's so much easier when you see them all together it makes it easier to compare size, markings and distinguishing features. Not that Chrissie was impressed - they all looked the same to her. I remember feeling that and sometimes I still feel like that! I spotted a little ringed plover in the far distance, so tiny and so well camouflaged against the shoreline. We've not got the 'black' birds ticked off as is the call of the green woodpecker, we saw three on the path just down from Winpenny, where we'd found a robin inside the hide but not much else.

Taking a break for lunch, there were several woodland birds on the feeders outside the cafe including a nuthatch or two and we watched a green woodpecker over on the slope by the woodland, digging in the ground and then silhouetted on a tree before heading back out for a second circuit and adding a few more species to the list. However, I missed out on seeing any snipe, according to the log there were four around - mmmm, unlike me to miss a snipe. I could have stayed there longer but tea and cake were calling and the student was tiring after so much input. I was still getting excited but LBJs and as we got back to the centre saw a spotted flycatcher on the dead trees at the top of the slope.

How To Watch Birds - Part 1: Getting Started

Many people are oblivious to the wildlife around them. Even in the middle of a city you can still see birds. Birds have happily adapted to live alongside human beings and even take advantage of the additional opportunities provided.

Many people now have feeders in their garden, which attracts a variety of garden and woodland birds. You may think your little patch of suburbia won’t attract much but over the course of a year you might be surprised.

When I first moved here – a robin was exotic, now I’ve been watching for a while the list is always growing and even the regulars are interesting to see.

All you need to get started is a pair of eyes, a pair of binoculars a bird book and a desire to learn.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Blackbird Sunbathing

Walking back through the park today and I noticed a black mound on the ground which as I got closer turned out to be a blackbird with it's wings and tail spread out, sitting out in the sunshine.

I've seen them do this occasionally and they're either sunbathing or 'anting'. Allowing ants to crawl over it's feathers and using the formic acid that the ants spray onto them, to kill off any parasites or just allowing the sun to do the same.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ant Flying Day

Just when I decide to take a break from work and sit in the garden for half an hour, the ants are taking to the air. Queen ants with their large, brown bodies and long wings and the smaller drones, only slightly larger than the worker ants and with wings that stick out at more of an angle. Both crawl up grass stems before launching themselves into the air and usually not getting very far and crashing back down to earth only to start again. It obviously takes a bit of practice and I don't suppose there's a lot of room below ground, so it takes a few attempts before they launch themselves successfully and take off for pastures new.

As I was watching, one female landed with two males attached to her abdomen, hanging on for dear life as she appeared to be trying to get rid of them as she stumbled around on the ground. Presumably, having coupled up with a male the queen then goes off to lay her eggs and start a new colony.

Ants are one of the many insect species where having mated the males then die - their role in life completed. No wonder they were fighting over the queen.

Urban Wildlife

I doubt many people noticed the peregrine chasing pigeons over the Marina this morning. I only caught a glimpse of its dark shape, as it flew past while I was sitting having a coffee, watching the world and wildlife go by.

It could have been one of two pairs (or maybe more) - either the one's currently residing in Brighton or is it Hove, on Bedford towers who have been there for a few years, or a pair nesting along the cliff towards Saltdean, or perhaps the marina has it's own resident pair.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Butterflies At Last

Finally had a peacock butterfly in the garden yesterday, a red admiral today and a few blue butterflies across the way. There have been a few cabbage whites flying around but the buddleia has been bereft of butterflies. Now that the wind has dropped and the sun has come out they've reappeared.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

July Day Out At Pulborough

Another day out at Pulborough to check out a friend's new spotting scope. First spot of the day was three buzzards circling over the woods by the Visitor's Centre - pleased to see them as I missed them last time. We (well, not me), did have a shopping spree in the centre as Stephen wanted to buy a new pair of binoculars and of course had to test them out.

Meanwhile, I checked out the birdlog to see what had been spotted that day and was delighted to see that the black-tailed godwits were still around and a snipe had been spotted. One snipe, somewhere on the reserve was going to be a bit of a challenge but they are one of my favourites, so I was hopeful. Stephen might have a long wait!

We started off with Jupp's View - the best view of the meadows and to see waders. It didn't take long to spot the common sandpipers, there were a few of them around and a few more minutes and over in the far distance the snipe - on it's own but still distinctive with it's brown and yellow striped head and exceeding long bill. We also spotted the bar-headed goose which appeared in plain view for a few minutes and was feeding with the canada geese. Somehow I don't think it's either a resident or a 'summer'? visitor but an escapee from the Arundel Wildfowl Trust down stream. Lovely to see it though.

There are eight black-tailed godwits out there - still looking gorgeous in their summer plummage. I was a bit bemused by the sandpiper which was a green sandpiper but also looked like a wood sandpiper until one of the volunteers pointed out the distinguishing features. Always good to get an expert opinion, as depending on light, plumage and time of year some of the waders can be hard to identify - especially when they're far away and even with a spotting scope.

Still a few young moorhens around and it took a second circuit to see any herons and a solitary little egret which flew across from the far side of the brooks to land on the edge of the water just below the Little Hanger hide. A few butterflies around which have been few and far between so far this year and a grass snake spotted swimming up the ditch by Nettley Hide. There are also plenty of cinnabar moths on the ragwort - we could do with some of those on the Tye where the ragwort has taken over.

The scope proved a hit as it really does make such a great difference to the pleasure of bird watching and how much you can see.

[Photos - Courtesy of Stephen Cotterell]

Saltdean Carnival

Slightly better weather today, definitely a lot more blue sky around than when we were at the Peacehaven Carnival although almost as windy. A few more stands, a dog show with a variety of prizes for the assortment of dogs, acrobatics display and a classic car show with some amazingly beautiful cars, highly polished chrome and metal.

This time, the FoTT were sharing a stand with the Saltdean Residents Association which was handy as there was a shared interest. We signed up 11 new members, a great result and has helped to swell the numbers of the group.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pigeon Feathers

Missed all the action this afternoon.

I came down to find that either a cat actually managed to catch a pigeon or the sparrowhawk has been active in the garden again. There's a scattering of pigeon coloured feathers across the garden - under the feeders, by the bird table and bird bath and then by the buddleia - so either it swooped in an arc round the garden, grabbing the pigeon by the bird table or the feeders, they're all pretty close to each other or the pigeon put up a good fight. There aren't enough feathers for it to have sat plucking the bird, so it must have flown off with it or it got away.

There are usually two or three around the garden, either sitting on the pergola where the feeders are, by the bird bath or on the neighbouring roofs. Easy picking for a passing predator.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Leaf Cutter Bee

Just decided to plant up my cucumber plants and there was a buzzing sound as I divided up the three plants and pieces of bright leaf appeared. One small rolled up tube had the back end of a bee. Apparently I'd chosen that very moment to disturb a nesting bee. Having stopped buzzing, there seemed to be a certain amount of housework going on and after a few minutes she buzzed off. Peering inside the carefully rolled tube there is one tiny egg a few millimeters long on top of a wax cap above what presumably is honey or pollen. Who knows. Do solitary bees work in the same way as honey bees?

Anyway, as apparently the females go off and now die, I've created a tunnel and popped the tube into it, covered with soil. I have no idea if it will work but if it does, it's worth a try. There was also what looked like a pupa case. Have done the same with that - I'm probably preserving a pest.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Peacehaven Carnival

Not the best day for a carnival - although a few hardy folks made it along to the Joff Field and braved the wind and then rain. The FoTT had a stand there, so I went along to lend a hand which mainly consisted of holding down the stand, chasing after bits of paper that flew past and hanging on to the tarpaulin to protect things from the rain. It got colder and wetter and having handed out several leaflets, eaten a bacon roll and drunk a cup of tea (courtesy of the local scout group) and signed up three new members, I headed back home to thaw and dry out.

Well done to everyone who did turn up and to those taking part in the carnival - certainly a case of the band playing on.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bumblebees On Mullien

The bumblebees are having a great time on the mullien which have seeded themselves on the patio. Being biennials these grew last year and only this year has a tall grey spike appeared with yellow flowers up the stem.

The flowers come out one at a time providing a steady supply of pollen and presumably nectar for the bees over quite a long period of time. Some of them (the bees) are so large and heavy that they pull off the flower and fall to the ground before bumbling back up to have another go.

Friday, June 27, 2008

More Fledglings

Visited this morning by a family of great tits. Several young birds flitting about from shrubs to feeders to just perching and occasionally being fed by their parents. There were about four or perhaps five - difficult to tell as they were flying about. The young don't have the bold black stripe of the parents.

After a few minutes I also noticed three blue tits around the feeders, I think one of those is also a young one but there was so much flitting going on that I couldn't tell or see if it was being fed or perhaps it's old enough to fend for itself.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blackbird Fledgling

There's a baby blackbird in the pyracantha outside my sitting window. It's a little bundle of brown, speckled feathers with the yellow gape and downy feathers of a recently fledged bird and not much tail that I can see. I don't want to get too close and scare it away.

I've been watching the parents feeding or rather flying into the buddliea and sumac with a beak-full of something for several days now and hoped to see them fledge at some point but didn't expect to have one sitting so close. It's in a good place as there's no way the cats can get to it. I just hope it stays there until it can fly properly. Far too many cats around for my liking.

I've seen mum appear a few times and have also seen her across the way - so perhaps they have more than one or one's still in the nest.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Outdoor Tai Chi

It gets a little distracting practising Tai Chi outdoors. The weekly Monday lessons have moved to the Grange in Lewes, now that it's Summer and while trying to do the warm-up and the form, I can't help but get distracted by:

- the swifts screeching about overhead
- or the two herons that cronked past, followed by several crows
- or the male blackbird that came to have a look, when it wasn't singing from the mulberry tree
- or the collared dove with only one tail feather that flew down
- or the beautiful copper beech that stands in one corner
- or the other people lying in the sun or sitting on benches
- or the magnolia tree which has some massive blooms this year

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cracking day out in Pulborough

As Gromit would say but very windy.

Having thought it was going to rain or at least be showery, I went prepared to spend a day huddled in the hides, not expecting to see much. After an initial morning shower I arrived in sunshine with a few clouds and plenty of wind.

First stop Westmead Hide which is usually good for snipe but only a few crows, swifts and woodpigeon around. There was a young fox up on the hillside by the woods - just sitting in the sunshine not doing much except looking around and watching a crow that got a bit close, until it sauntered off.

Doing the usual circuit - going clockwise from hide to hide, not much in the way of waders but I did spot a black-tailed godwit in one of the larger pools. All on it's own, in it's rust coloured summer plummage, feeding busily away, close to a small flock of canada geese. Two pairs of shelduck with young - one brood much older and the other with still relatively small, black and white chicks. It took a while to even spot one heron - let alone two and finally picked out two little egrets. Two redshanks were feeding near the lapwings, which I didn't see until I got round to the viewpoint by Nettley hide. At least it wasn't raining this time, so the viewpoints were the best places to see the birds.

Several deer kept popping their heads up on the brooks where they were feeding and a mother and young fawn were pretty close below the Hanger which turned out to be the best spotting site on this visit. I discovered that the dark deer, that are all around the reserve, are in fact fallow deer but a melanistic variety, not a different species. That's why they were mixed in with more regular light brown fallow deer. Watching the mother and fawn you could just make out dark spots on her back.

After a break for tea and cake in the cafe - I took a second circuit in the hopes of seeing the hobby, which had been spotted near Winpenny but no luck or the pair of buzzards which someone had spotted earlier. I did however, see the sand martins this time, having missed them the first time round, flying to and fro over one of the pools with several house martins and swifts.

Despite not seeing either the buzzards or hobby, I managed to notch up a good count of forty-nine different species on this visit, the highest so far and that was without seeing some the regulars like dunnocks and sparrows and something that I couldn't identify skulking about in the bushes - something brown! Highlight was the godwit along with a yellow-hammer singing from the dead trees between Winpenny and Little Hanger.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sparrow Fledgling

For a few brief moments I had a young sparrow sitting on the pergola being fed by both parents who were getting seed from the feeder. By the time I'd grabbed my binoculars to have a closer look, next door's cat had appeared and they'd disappeared!

I've heard tweets coming from around the garden but haven't managed to spot any baby birds. The robin has been making a regular appearance at the feeder but didn't take up either of the nest sites they started in my garden and now heads off towards the park. Will look forward to seeing

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Survey of the Tye

Today's task - surveying the Tye. Part of the working being done on the Tye is to preserve and improve the conditions for fauna and flora on this part of the Downs. Grazing by sheep and cattle keeps down the more vigorous species and allows more of the chalk-downland species to establish themselves.

The main Tye is grazed by sheep and cattle, mowed once a year and home to skylarks, although visited by hundreds of local dog walkers every day so wildlife is limited to the less busy areas.

Only three of us turned up for the survey and decided to work our way up from the bottom of the Tye and just see how far we got. Our first quadrat was right down at the end, near the coast road and having picked out spot - roughly where the previous survey was done, out came the books as we attempted to work out what it was we were looking at in our two metre square. Not having an expert with us - it took time, trying to work out what particular species of hawkweed or buttercup we were looking at and the subtle differences don't make it easy. Obvious plants like clover, plantain dandelion were easy to spot but it took us a while to work out black medick - a small, yellow, clover-like plant and smooth sow thistle.

The second quadrat further up the west side of the Tye took slightly less time as we'd now got our eye in for some of the species. Slightly more variety in this one but nothing exotic like an orchid. They are around, someone we'd spoke to earlier had seen one but as the grass is pretty long they're either well hidden or at risk of being trampled by dogs and dog walkers. They might be further up the Tye were there's less disturbance

Plants found: white clover, buckshorn plantain, dovesfoot cranesbill, black medick, mouse-ear hawkweed, smooth sow thistle, bulbous buttercup, dandelion, ground ivy, greater plantain, creeping buttercup, common mouse-ear, black medick, creeping thistle, wild carrot, moon carrot

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Walk On The E-piece

Having dropped my car off on the outskirts of Peacehaven for it's MOT, I took the opportunity to walk back via the Tye E-piece. So called because this part of the Tye, separate from the main Tye resembles an E, reversed. There are two areas that were cleared a couple of years ago on the south-west and south-east, north facing slopes that are both overgrown. The steep slope we cleared near the water trough on the south-east side, is now covered with nettles, bramble, sycamore seedlings, elder and fireweed (rosebay willow herb). Most of the trees along that slope are sycamore with a couple of ash , hawthorn and elder. Didn't spot the bird boxes this time but I dare say some of them are being used ... well, I hope they are.

There's another patch just off the top footpath that has been cleared at some point and although overgrown again, is a good place to see what's in the tree-tops. I didn't go over onto the 'spine' - there's more scrub there and it's more open ... next time.

Birds spotted:

A dozen or more house-martins flying over the sycamore in the bottom of the valley.
At least 15-20 wood-pigeons either sitting in the trees in one large group or flying from one side to the other.
7 swifts flying above the clearing.
Numerous blue-tits - cheeping of several youngsters from the bushes but I didn't spot any of them, just the parents picking off insects from the bushes.
Wren - scolding from the undergrowth somewhere.
Blackbird - a few pairs
Robin - singing loudly from the treetops
Whitethroat - heard it's alarm call first then spotted it as I walked back along the top track.
Chiff-chaff - heard singing.
Willow Warbler - heard singing and think I spotted one flitting
Chaffinch - also heard singing and I think a couple flew across as I walked down onto the E.
Magpies - several flying around and squwaking from the trees.
Carrion Crow - there's always one of these somewhere.
Dunnock - singing at the top of the track back on The Lookout road.

Total count = 14

Not bad given the damp, overcast day and I wasn't there that long.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Parents Feeding, Sparrowhawk Circling

Sitting out in the garden this afternoon watching very bedraggled blue tits visiting the feeders in a steady stream throughout the day, usually one or two at a time. It's important to keep the feeders topped up over the summer, so that parent birds can at least get a good feed while feeding hungry mouths. The most I've seen are three blue tits at one time - wondering if any of them are the first fledglings of the year, they certainly didn't look young - full tails and no visible gapes.

Looking up , I spotted the female sparrowhawk circling overhead. I always think of them as being ambush predators - swopping low over fences, hedges and through trees to pounce on birds but this one was flapping and circling, slowly gaining height until I saw it dive with great speed but then came back up again and carried on circling and climbing until I lost sight of it over the roofs. Unless of course it isn't a sparrowhawk at all but something else. However, the rounded wings and long tail seemed very distinctive and there's obviously definitely one around but I didn't want to dash inside and grab the binoculars unless I lost it.

Note to self ... take binoculars out into the garden with you at all times.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Path Clearance and House Building

It was meant to be wet today (being a Bank Holiday weekend) but after some welcome overnight rain, today started out dry if slightly overcast, as I headed over the Tye for some path clearance with the FoTT. Strimmers to the fore two of us headed up the west side to clear the path on the inside edge of the fencing. Most of it is heavily overgrown and obviously not much used, except by a few of the houses with gates from their garden ... and dogs. In a couple of places the sheep fencing has been cut (so that their dogs can get through) but of course it also means that livestock can get through the other way. Not a problem when the cattle are on the Tye but no deterrent to the sheep who will get through any form of fencing if it shows the slightest resistance. Both cattle and sheep are on the Tye - the sheep up at the very top and shawn, the cattle currently down nearer the bottom end.

We started up at the top gate and worked slowly through the nettles and long grass until finally clearing as far as the next gate, which was about a hundred yards and had taken us about two hours. Peter was strimming - being a qualified strimming/brush-cutting operative and I was following behind and raking, leaving a couple of piles of grass cuttings to the side which could act as a nice warm heap for slow worms. At one point we cut through some mint which left a wonderful smell wafting up the path and reminded me of Moroccan mint tea. The whole path is very overgrown, obviously not used very often and really needs more than a strim twice a year to keep it clear. Plenty of young starlings around - the first fledglings of the year that I've seen, with their dull brown plumage compared to their glossy parents.

Taking the scenic route back up the funeral track looking at the difference in the bunding. Most of it now overgrown with grass, brambles and nettles but a few of the newer patches still white and bare. It's due to be removed in June. I wonder what impact their removal will have on the fly-tipping, vehicles on the Tye and the wildlife. A Dad and his daughter were 'prospecting' with a metal detector - I stopped for a brief chat just to see what they might have found - a bullet, a horseshoe (the Tye was ploughed years ago) and a necklace - modern one, which someone had dropped. I don't expect they'll find much of value

Up at the dewpond, three swallows this time and a pair of linnets flew in for a drink while I was leaning on the rails, peering into the murky water to see if there were any sign of the snails that were plentiful a year or so ago. There's still a small puddle of water hanging in there, topped up by last night's rain. Slightly further up the track, at the top of the Tye near the cattle grid, there were about a dozen house-martins and a couple of swallows round the edge of a puddle, collecting mud for their nests. Plenty of mud at the dewpond for them but they weren't picking up from there - perhaps it's the wrong sort of mud.

Heard the whitethroat again although didn't manage to spot it this time. Blackbirds and a song thrush singing away around the playing fields. Walking back through the small copse at the bottom of the road - plenty of undergrowth, ivy covered trees, a dunnock and several wood pigeons. It would be an ideal site for a few bird boxes which I'm sure the numerous local tits would appreciate.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Robin's Nest Update

The female is out in the garden again and it seems as if she's chosen the site right outside the back door - she flew out as I opened the door this morning and when I'd gone back inside a few minutes later and was at the kitchen window, she was sitting on the arch watching me before flying back onto the nest via the shrubs along the border.

I had to pop out a few minutes later to rescue a ball that came flying over the fence and didn't hear or see her fly out this time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Robins Feeding

Now we have feeding activity - the male feeding the female who was sitting on the top of the arch. She then headed into the ivy near the back door, having now apparently chosen that nest rather than the other one they started building over the weekend.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Summer Visitors

Haven't run for a couple of weeks recently but got out late this afternoon for my usual run up on the Tye. The hawthorn blossom is out in full now and birds singing from every bush and tree top (or chirping noisily in the case of the sparrows). Heard the tuneful bird by the playing fields car park again which I haven't quite pinned down. It sounds too 'warbly' to be a dunnock but I'll need to listen to the CD again to try and work out what it might be - bird song recognition not being my strongest skill.

A few finches (greenfinch and chaffinch) and sparrows about and of course several starlings and wood pigeons in the fields. The dewpond is very low again with very little water left in it and one solitary swallow flying back and forth. Perhaps it's still too early for more of them to be around, at least there's good nest building material at the pond for them. Wouldn't it be great if the dewpond was properly fixed, so that it actually retained water and attracted more wildlife - I don't know if the newts are still there.

I spotted a female wheatear which flew up onto the bunding on the funeral track as I ran down, scattering rabbits back into the undergrowth. It's the first one this year and as I ran back onto the bridleway heard and then saw a whitethroat by the cattle grid, as it flew across the track and sat in the hawthorn.

Good to see the summer visitors back and I'll keep an eye out for their increasing numbers - not just the rabbits which have definitely increased over the last few months since almost disappearing over the earlier part of the year. Both the cattle (dairy) and sheep (shorn) were up on the main Tye today with a few young beef cattle - didn't notice if they were bullocks or heifers - in the small enclosed field at the side - together with a lone sheep who looked as if it might have 'escaped' from the main Tye.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nest Building - Site 2

Well, the female robin is back out again but this time heading into the ivy at the bottom of the garden. Not quite as much activity as last week and not interested in the moss I'd raked up for her on the lawn, insisting on pulling out her own bits. There isn't quite the depth of cover there, it's south-facing and right by the veg patch.

I only saw her heading there a couple of times, so will see if they decide on this nest site rather than the other one.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sparrowhawk Being Mobbed

Popped outside this morning to pick up some pots that had blown over and heard a screeching and squawking coming from across the park. Two crows were chasing the female sparrowhawk who had caught a wood pigeon and was being mobbed as she flew between the houses and out of sight around the corner. I knew it was the female because she was brown rather than grey and quite large.

The squawking stopped and a few minutes later one crow returned and then the sparrowhawk (now pigeonless) and flying much higher above the trees, followed and chased briefly, by the other crow before they all flew out of sight towards the top end of the park.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Nest Building - Day 2

She's still out there building and I've been creeping quietly in and out of the back-door to the garden a few times over the course of the day. I even managed to mow the lawn this morning and she continued to fly back and forth after that. She's going to have to get used to that as I'm not about to shut up the house - especially over the summer but she doesn't seem too worried. I did try to time my movements in and out of the house for when she'd flown off rather than when she was actually at the nest.

Today she's going slightly further afield having picked up all the moss I'd scrapped up yesterday and coming back with what looks like a mouthful of leaves. Still taking several steps to get to the nest rather than flying straight in.

Didn't see the male at all today.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Nest Building Robins

Out in the garden today - needless to say - it was a lovely sunny day, when I heard a pair of robins tzeep, tzeeping to each other, although I couldn't spot where they were calling from, just somewhere in the undergrowth. It's the call young birds make when they're hiding but I thought it more likely to be a pair and wondered if they were nesting in the ivy in the bottom corner.

Later this afternoon, as I'm out planting up my salad seeds on the patio, a robin appears on the lawn. Not too surprised as I'd been digging up some of the weeds so thought it had a mouthful of insects but when I glanced up again it had gone and I heard a movement in the ivy by the back door, then spotted the robin back on the lawn but this time with a beak-full of moss. I watched it quietly and it flew into the ribes and then into the ivy. I thought I'd give it a helping hand and scrapped up some of the moss with a small hand rake. Not wanting to disturb it too much, I crept quietly inside and closed the door but then decided to go back out with my camera and watch it from the bench. Sure enough it flitted back and forth several times, quite happy for me to sit and watch and snap away. Heading for a place about three feet up and right by the back door, sometimes with a mouthful so big that it could hardly see and had to take two attempts to get into the ivy.

Why it had chosen the ivy closest to the house and ignored the purpose made bird box sitting on the fence jut a few feet away. Actually, it had probably ignored it because it was too high up and too exposed and I'd been thinking about moving it earlier in the day - perhaps into the honeysuckle or the vibernum at the end of the garden, although that's a bit of a thorough fare for the cats. The male, well, I'm guessing it's the female doing the nest building, appeared and proceeded to give a scolding call as it hopped about on the pergola and peered over into next doors garden. Presuming the cat was out, as I don't think it was too bothered by me, the female stopped her collection and I could hear her tzeeping, perched in the ribes until the male started to sing and she carried on with her moss collection. As it's May, I wonder if this is the second brood of the year, if they're just late or if the first brood failed.

I just hope that using the back door won't disturb them too much and that they'll complete the nest building, lay eggs and raise a brood. I'll need to make sure it's kept closed and not hooked back against the fence and also get the cat alarm out to keep them off the patio.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust II

The sparrowhawk has been active in the garden again - judging by the heap of feathers I found scattered around the garden, mainly by the back gate and a pile in one corner by the feeders where it had plucked the feathers out before flying off with it.

A woodpigeon this time but as there are plenty of those around I'm not as upset by this as I was about the robin. At least it provides a half decent meal rather than a snack.

I wonder if and where it's nesting. I see it quite often around the park where there are plenty of mature trees and a ready source of birds around the neighbouring gardens.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Viewings Now Available


Great excitement - I have a pair of blue-tits checking out the bird box. Over the last few days, one has been tantalising me by hopping around on the quince and even perching on the hole and having a peck round the outside. This time not only did he bring the missus but he or she popped inside to check it out. They flew off shortly afterwards. I think blue tits can have two or three potential nest sites and then choose one. Either that or blue tits aren't monogamous.

Friday, April 25, 2008

First Swallow

Spotted my first swallow of the summer - I was on the phone at the time and saw it flitting past the window and over the house. Not the earliest sighting of the year I'm sure but my first one.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Two By Two

A pair of greater spotted woodpeckers were out this morning. Only working out that it was a pair having seen the red patch on the back of the male's head and then a couple of minutes later the female appeared who doesn't have the red patch.

There was also a pair of nuthatches investigating the nuts and even on the ground at one point. Unusual to see two of these but it is Spring, so birds appearing in twos seem to be more common.

The male pheasant appeared for his breakfast, looking very smart with his bright red cheek patches, white collar and brightly breeding plumage. Having scoffed down his seed, he then limped across the lawn to pick up the outfall from the hanging feeders. An injury from fighting a rival for either territory or females but not successful as he wasn't part of a pair. He's certainly onto a good thing here - getting fed twice a day - when he turns up. The females tend to turn up later - when he's gone - although when they're all together he can get very amorous.

Three Robins, One Garden

A few minutes watching the feeders and I spotted half a dozen blue tits, a couple of great tits, a dozen or so chaffinches, several sparrows, greenfinches, dunnock, three robins, three wood pigeons and a yellow-hammer - an unusual visitor to garden feeders but very distinctive with the bright yellow-head. A greater spotted woodpecker also made a brief appearance.

Far more birds appearing at one sitting than I ever see in my garden and they're constantly flitting to and from the feeders. Disappearing into the beech hedge and then out again. The chaffinches are constantly chasing each other around the feeders and on the ground, also chasing other birds off the feeders.

The robins were all fairly close to each other on the top part of the lawn. Two are obviously a pair - I saw one (male) feeding the other (female). Whether the third one is another female - hence being tolerated in the pairs territory, I'm not sure. Robin's are usually very territorial and will chase off other robins. Is this one supporting two females?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Des Res

Delightful residence, close to local amenities, within easy flying distance of superb outdoor dining. Good view, friendly neighbours. Any takers?

Apparently not - my bird boxes are being ignored, yet again.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Trio of Goldfinches

Three goldfinches on the feeders today. I thought there were four at one point as one flew in one direction and then another appeared from a different direction but it had just done a loop. Two sat on the niger feeder for a while and one on the seed feeder before they flew off. Two in one direction, over the park and the other had a drink first before flying off southwards across the park.

A couple of hours later a blackcap (male) appeared on the pyracantha at the front, right by the window. The blue tits have been regular visitors there too for the last couple of weeks.

Monday, April 07, 2008

New Moon in April

There's a wonderful moon out tonight.

There was a new moon last night and as I drove back from Tai Chi in Lewes it's low in the West and just a sliver of moon and the faint glow of earth shine lighting up the dark side of the moon.

Pretty clear sky tonight with plenty of stars visible - as the moon's so dark.

Snow Still

The sun is out so it won't be long until the snow vanishes but it stayed around overnight and the wood pigeons are gobbling up the seed I put out on the ground.

The blue tits are flying to and from the feeder almost continuously and there's one that look as if either it's an obese blue tit or is very fluffed up. The robin still insists on feeding off the seed feeder rather than eating what's on the ground or on the table - perhaps it hasn't worked out that it's there yet.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Snow In April

An unexpected snowfall as not only had we just had one of the warmest days so far this week but either it doesn't make it this far or if it does, it doesn't usually hang around this far south. There's a little micro-climate down on the South Coast. The rest of the county can be covered in snow but along the coast there will be nothing.

However, after a clear and sunny start to the morning, the snow clouds came in and at around 10am it started snowing and didn't stop until the afternoon when it started to thaw rapidly.

I popped out briefly to take a few pics, top up the feeders and put food out on the bird table and pathway. In a cold snap like this they'll need feeding and there's no point in them wasting energy only to find the feeders empty. The blue tits and robin appeared almost instantly as did a blackbird and couple of starlings and of course the wood pigeon who was out having a bath in the sunshine yesterday!

Now that the temperature has dropped there's still quite a lot of snow left which will probably have disappeared by tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ascent of the Cheviot - Second Attempt

More snow overnight but some blue sky around and the could base was higher, so we set off for a second attempt on the Cheviot. The wind had dropped and after heading up the valley, we took a shorter route up onto the hill, bypassing the Refuge Hut this time. There was snow all the way up the valley and I spotted a couple of bramblings along the stream near to the plantation. Most of the valley is planted with conifers but is gradually being returned to native woodland and there is plenty of grouse hunting up on the moors. Several red grouse flew up from the heather and the tops of the hills are a chequerboard of managed heather where it's been burnt and cleared at regular intervals to allow new shoots for the grouse to feed on.

We were overtaken by a local who had walked up from Kelso, just across the border. He was walking up to the Cheviot and back and we passed him again on his way down from the summit as we hiked up the last stretch. A boardwalk has been laid along the Pennine Way and all the way up to the Cheviot - partly to stop the erosion and partly to stop people getting stuck in the peat bog! The horizontal wind and snow from the previous couple of days had created interesting ice sculpture on the fences and stiles along the top and the snow had been blown horizontally around the clumps of grass.

Having reached the summit, we had a brief lunch stop at the top sheltering from the wind before heading off in a loop down towards Scald Hill and then along the boggy path to find our path back home. Passing several walkers going the other way, most appropriately dressed for the weather but one person in not much more than jeans and trainers heading up the hill! The weather closed in fairly quickly several times during the walk and cleared up just as quickly but was pretty cold. Once off the hill and on the forest tracks, it was an easy walk home through the conifer plantation with tea and simmnel cake to look forward to.

The streams are clear and typical of mountain streams, so it was hardly surprising to see a pair of dippers as we came down towards Coldburn. Also spotted a pair of ducks - some debate over whether they were pintails (that's what they looked like initially) or goldeneyes (more likely) given that those are listed on the bird list back in the bunkhouse and I saw a large white patch on their wings as they flew off and a dark head - not always easy when they're flying away from you and you only get a fleeting glimpse.

Also spotted or heard were curlew, as we crossed the field just below the bunkhouse, greenfinch, chaffinch and tits (blue and great) seen around the house and at least 10 chaffinches on the feeders at the house. Pheasant, seen and heard in the valley and the croak of ravens up on the hill, a very large, dark buzzard and goldcrests up in the plantation.