Saturday, February 27, 2010

Defensive Driving Assessment

It was like taking my driving test again - although I can't really compare driving a landrover along country lanes to driving around London in a Triumph Dolomite.  I was being assessed for my on-road driving ability of the South Downs landrover.  I haven't driven anything vaguely four-wheeled since I did the off-road driving course and the landrover is pretty different from a modern easy to drive hatchback.

However, I didn't hit anything, I didn't turn it over on a bend and I didn't terrify my fellow passenger and assessment candidate or the assessor, so I passed.  Just the theory to go and then I might be heading out in a landrover on a task.

Friday, February 26, 2010

How To Watch Birds - Part 8: Birdsong

One of the best ways to identify birds is from their birdsong.

One of the most difficult ways to identify birds is from their birdsong.

Yes, it's a conundrum.  We often hear birds before we see them - or often without seeing them.  However, being able to identify anything but the more obvious is often difficult.  It takes years of practice, getting tuned in and then of course there are only those that can only be heard at certain times of year, so no sooner have you got the hang of the wood warbler or the whitethroat and it's gone.

I was given the Collins Field Guide: Bird Songs and Calls a couple of years ago and although it's not the best guide, it does give you a better chance of being able to identify a bird out in the wild.  Play and rewind frequently, so that recognition comes from repetition.  It's useful to find the bird you want to identify or think you might see before you go out (like crossbills).  [N.B. Not for beginners]

Another useful tool is the audio snippets on the RSPB website and British Garden Birds which has short bursts of songs and calls.

Even better if you can go out with someone who's experienced.  They can then point you in the right direction and help the initial identification process easier.

If you can start to identify birds by their song you'll get even more enjoyment from your birdwatching.

Friday, February 19, 2010

House Sparrows

Seven house sparrows on the feeders just now.  I'll often see 3-5 but 7 is the highest count so far.

I think word must be getting round about the well stocked feeders.  In fact I'll need to get another bag of seed at the RSPB Pulborough this weekend.

I'll give up with the peanuts, those have never been popular and go bad before they ever get eaten.  The fat balls are popular with the starlings but not many others.  The woodpigeon did have a go the other day as it could reach it from one of the other feeders.

More Feeders, More Birds

Definitely seeing more birds in the garden these days since the new feeders were installed.  Although now that I'm working from the dining room table it also means I see more of them throughout the day rather than the occasional glimpse from the kitchen window.

This morning I came down to a small flock of green and goldfinches.  The goldfinches are becoming regular visitors several times a day.  Often just two but I've seen as many as six at a time.  I was lucky if I saw them several times a year, so it's lovely to have these colourful visitors every day.  They're now almost totally ignoring the niger feeder in favour of the sunflower seed mix.  Perhaps the positioning more in the open makes a difference.

I usually only see one solitary greenfinch, so having three or four at a time was a treat.  They're definitely the most aggressive - chasing off any other birds that come near the feeder when they're on it, regardless of whether there are spare perches.  There's often a large flock of 20 or so birds that fly in towards the end of the day and sit on the trees in the park but they don't come visiting.

The blackcap is also a regular visitor.  Ever since the snow - he's been in the garden pretty much every day and is even getting aggressive with some of the other smaller birds.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Good Day For The Birds

A lovely day in the garden today.  It started out very cold but no sign of the snow which had blocked roads just a few miles either side of here.

I watched - robins, blackbirds, song thrush, goldfinches, chaffinches, dunnock, collared doves, wood pigeons, blue tit, great tit, greenfinches, house sparrows, starling and a pair of blackcaps.  Everyone seemed to be in pairs today although the robins were chasing each other round the garden rather being within a few feet of each other.

The female blackcap has been coming into the garden for a couple of days but today the male reappeared and both of them spent most of the day feeding, drinking and bathing.  Everyone was particularly interested in the bird bath today.

Two song thrush appeared at one point and were having a fight before flying off.  Two males claiming their territory or a pair?  I've only seen one in the garden and today it was feeding on the ground near the house but perhaps I've had two different one's visiting at different times.  I'll keep making sure snails are available, so they keep coming back.  Shouldn't be a problem, there are so many of them!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Very Chilly Search For Fieldfare

It couldn't make up it's mind today whether it was going to snow or not.  There were snow showers on and off all day.  One minute it was grey and there'd be a flurry of snow and a few minutes later the sky would be blue and the sun came out.  A large flock of redwing or fieldfare flew over about midday so I went out early afternoon to see if there was any sign of them up on the Tye.

It was bitterly cold with an icy wind but no snow and also no sign of a large flock of feeding birds.  They were probably long gone by then.  Plenty of wood pigeon flying around and I did spot one solitary fieldfare up in the horse field with a couple of blackbirds and carrion crows but that was it, very little else around.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

And Then There Were Ten

There are often several magpies around the area and it's rare to see only one or two at a time.  This afternoon half a dozen flew up onto one of the nearby roofs and were quickly joined by more.  In the end there were ten of them together on the roof.  Two more were sitting on nearby trees - perhaps not members of the same family group as they didn't join them.

There are many variations on the Magpie rhyme - one for sorrow, two for joy and in the US, where magpies are rarer they base it on crows.  I like this version which includes additional lines:

One for sorrow,
Two for Joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told,
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss,
Eleven for health,
Twelve for wealth, 
Thirteen beware, it's the devil himself.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Pulborough: Water Rail and the Biking Birder

The morning was cold, grey and with a few showers around and expecting more I headed out to Pulborough to meet up with the Biking Birder.  I arrived, surprised to find the car park full, especially on a Friday.  Heading straight out to Nettley's I bumped into Peter, the warden, who had seen a female goldeneye out on the far ponds and shortly after than Anna, who's been watching a water rail from Nettley's and found when Gary (@bikingbirder201) was due to arrive.

At Nettley's the water rail was clearly visible in a clump of sedge close to the fence.  Beautiful views when it came out into the open with a pair of green woodpeckers feeding on the ground on the other side of the reeds. Plenty of canada geesewigeon, teal, a few gadwall and the wonderful, elegant pintails out on the Brooks, which were fairly flooded.  Waders were few and far between with only a couple of black-tailed godwit spotted and no sign of the snipe.  Winpenny was very quiet - plenty of lapwing, a few teal and wigeon and three tufted duck over at the back.  A lovely song thrush singing from the hedgerow between Winpenny and West Mead.

No sign of the crossbills over on the heathland when I went up for a short walk before taking a break for lunch but they were there.  I just didn't see them, although I think I heard them down in the plantation.

After lunch I finally caught up with Gary back in Nettley's - him and Barnaby Bear.  He'd seen the crossbills, which was the main tick needed here and was checking out the waterbirds.  Nothing new had appeared although I did see the Peregrine flying off from a perch near to Jupp's View over the trees and had spotted a buzzard flying near to the centre as I walked down.

While enjoying a cup of tea and a slice of bread pudding out in the sunshine with Gary and Anna - I spotted a few more species to add to the day's list and ended up with a total of 48.  A few photo opps and then Gary headed off to Horsham for the next leg of his journey.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Breakfast With The Goldfinches

The goldfinches seem to be regular breakfast visitors to the feeders at the moment and this morning I spotted seven house sparrows scrapping for their turn on the feeder - there only being four perches available - although if they'd looked a few feet away there are six on the other feeder! I always enjoy seeing the sparrows now - especially as they're not as common as they once were.