Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Serbia Day 3: Baranda Lake

Moving locations today, so packed up and on to the bus adding extra layers after yesterday's chill factor.  With a final tour of the hotel grounds we identified Paul's unknown bird which he'd seen yesterday - a serin, singing from a tree.

Black-tailed Godwit
Today was a very wet, cold, miserable day.  The rain was even more persistent than yesterday and got to even the hardiest.  There's only so much cold and wet you can take.

We picked up a local guide on our way to Baranda Lake - another fishing pond - this time drained and with very different birds.  Several waders - many of which we were familiar with and some not so familiar.  Hundreds of night heron roosting in the trees along the edge.

Black-crowned Night Heron
After the lake, we had a brief stop at a local villagers house who had a terrace over-looking another lake and great views of terns, waterfowl, egrets, a kingfisher which kept flying across the water below the terrace.

There were also several large muskrat swimming around in the water.  An introduced species and as with most of them - a pest.

Our hostess offered us all a warming shot of the local brew to thaw us out - didn't help the squelching boots and it was a shame we couldn't have stayed there longer - despite the rain.  It would be a lovely spot on a sunny day.

Having now got thoroughly cold and wet, an impromptu meal of bread and soup was rapidly arranged at a local hotel.  Just what we needed for the journey to Vrsac our next stop for the tour.

Spoonbill, Temminck's Stint, Whiskered Tern, Black Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Ferruginous Duck, Kingfisher.

Photo credits - Phil Aylen

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Serbia Day 2: Okanj, White Storks and Carska Bara

A miserable start to the day with grey clouds and drizzle.  Not that that was going to put us off - after all, that's a pretty normal day back at home!

Each day now starts with a check of the bird list - making sure we've logged all the ticks and keeping a tally for the tour.

First stop was a shooting lodge on nearby farmland, a short drive away.  Despite the rain it didn't take long to spot a cuckoo, then another and another.  We saw at least four, one of which was a rarer rufous morph.

Several corn buntings also out in the rain - recognising their jangling song - either from the top of a bush or on a fence line.

A quick stop at a local fishing lake in the drizzle - several water birds - mainly coot, black-necked and great crested grebe and even a distant wigeon.  Dozens of yellow wagtail also feeding along the edge and on the grass.

Before getting too soaked, we moved on to the Carska Bara fish ponds via Kumane - the white stork village, with platfo .  Huge 'lakes', rather than ponds, positively leaping with carp and buzzing with bird life.  There's a little museum there with plenty of info on the birds and wildlife - much of it in English.

Having done a quick reccy from the road at the fish ponds, we then moved on to the Imperial Pond - another lake.  There's a 2km walk along a raised embankment with reedbeds and plenty of marsh harriers and warblers on one side and marsh, bog and wetlands on the other.

Male Marsh Harrier
It was pretty cold and wet and took a while to walk along to the viewpoint across the lake as there was so much to see - stopping every few minutes to pick up something singing, flying over, in a bush or reed bed.

There was bittern booming at regular intervals from the pond but we didn't get close enough for a glimpse.  We did see a purple heron flying low and finally caught a glimpse of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, which had been flying around as we walked up.

White Populars
Still more things to look at on the way back, especially when the rain eased up.

Looking up got us several raptors, including the black kite and Caspian Terns.  David got a life tick with the Savi's Warbler - in fact two of them, singing pretty close in the reedbed.

Rufous cuckoo, Corn Bunting, Marsh Harrier, Garganey, Pygmy Cormorant, Black Tern, Purple Heron, Great Reed Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Caspian Tern, Black Kite

Photo credits - Phil Aylen

Monday, April 16, 2012

Serbia Day 1: Rusanda and Kikindu

Tree SparrowAfter a leisurely breakfast, it took us nearly an hour to get out of the hotel grounds.  Every time we attempted to get on the bus, someone spotted or heard something of interest - binoculars to the ready to scan the bushes, tree tops, church tower for another tick.

We'd already seen a few during the post-breakfast walk out in the hotel ground - including a pair of kestrels up on the church tower.

In and out of the bus for a Sylvian woodpecker - the first of the trip and a Red-footed falcon flying overhead.

Our first site of the trip was an alkaline wetland area - Lake Rusanda where we quickly notched up several waders including black-winged stilt, avocet and spotted redshank, along with a large flock of Ruff and distant views of Marsh Harriers.  Although, no sightings of flamingoes - which had allegedly been seen there a few years ago.

Taking David's philosophy of 'look up' meant that while there was a lot going on on the ground and along the water's edge, we also managed to tick off a Goshawk (my first), Osprey, White tailed eagle, a flock of cranes and one that caused much discussion and speculation for the rest of the trip - a Pallid Harrier.

There was a mixed herd of cattle, goat and sheep, grazing on the meadows, accompanied by a shepherd and one or more dogs, which made sure you didn't come too close and rounded up stray animals.

Hundreds of frogs were croaking away in the water and smaller ones like the fire-bellied toad in puddles around the wetlands.  There were also occasional sightings of the European ground squirrel - the Souslik, which is a resident of the pastures.

Having ticked off a few in this area, we stopped off for lunch and then moved around to Park Rusanda which is an established long-eared owl roost and soon to be nature reserve, on the other side of the wetlands.  Our first sighting of a great egret flying past in the car park, a roosting long-eared owl.  There were a few more birds to add to the list before heading North to Kikindu where the serious long-eared owl winter roosts are - over 100 birds in one tree!

First stop was a local park yielded up a few woodland birds and a Serin in amongst the joggers and cyclists - wondering what this group of foreigners was doing, binoculars in hand peering up into the trees.

As we couldn't make it in to the town centre due to a local election rally, we headed out to the Old Brick factory, now an art colony where as well as looking at the outdoor clay sculptures, we had good views of a pair of black redstart and several night heron and spent several minutes trying to catch sight of an elusive (as ever) nightingale singing in the bushes.

Sylvian woodpecker, Osprey, Red-footed falcon, Black-winged stilt, Black redstart, Marsh Harrier, Goshawk, Hoopoe, Pallid Harrier, White-tailed sea eagle, Marsh sandpiper, Black-necked grebe, Serin.

Photo credits - Phil Aylen

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Serbian Tour With The UrbanBirder

Well, I have to say this was my first ever official birdwatching tour and having shied away from the thought of hoards of twitchers and super-keen and highly skilled birders, I was somewhat wary.  But how could I resist - not only the lure of birds of prey and especially owls but a call from the Urban Birder himself.

Set off with scope and binoculars, bird guide and notebook packed - spotting birds along the way to the airport - 3 buzzards on the M25.  Picked up a copy of The Observer with a great article on the man himself.

On arrival at Belgrade airport - my first bird of prey - but not enough of a glance to identify it - possible buzzard. David was there to meet us along with Milan Ruzic our guide for the tour and worth his weight in gold.  It didn't take long to get the first ticks on the list.  A night heron roost on the banks of the Danube along with several pygmy cormorant and my first swifts of the year.

Heading north out of Belgrade to our first hotel of the stay - Kastel Ecka and within minutes we'd already ticked off our first owls of the tour. A long-eared owl nesting in a tree in the hotel grounds - literally feet away with the male roosting in a neighbouring tree, a little owl calling and then spotted at the top of the tree and a barn-owl heard in the distance - although it's thought to be nesting in the church tower and I'm sure I caught a fleeting glimpse as we arrived.
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Saturday, April 14, 2012

RSPB Lapwing Survey

Lapwing, Bowling Green Marsh. Taken from the R...

If you're out and about on the South Downs this Spring and Summer look out for lapwings.

The RSPB is running a Lapwing Survey with the help of funding from the South Downs National Park to find out how many of these declining birds are on the Downs and if recent conservation efforts have helped to increase their numbers.

Also know as the pee-wit, because of their distinct call, these black and white birds with a distinct crest, are often seen on farmland open fields or in short grassy areas in wetlands.

In flight they have rounded wings and a flapping flight pattern and tumbling display.

If you see any while out on the Downs - make a note of the number, location (grid ref if possible) behaviour and habitat.  Breeding behaviour is of particular interest - display flights, birds nesting on the ground or chick sightings.

Record your sightings between March and July this year and send them in to or telephone the RSPB on 01273 775333.

Lapwing, Bowling Green Marsh. Taken from the RSPB hide. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Telscombe Tye Dewpond

Here's our lovely new dewpond.

Finally finished - in fact although the initial planning and project took a while to put into action, it didn't take long once the contractors got to work - a little over two weeks from start to finish.

They started by digging out the old liner and concrete and then discovering and removing a huge concrete plug from the bottom of the pond.

Filling the whole thing with a base layer of clay, three layers of liner and more clay, smoothing out the base ready for it to be filled.

A task which we were fortunate to have completed for us by the East Sussex Fire Service.  Of course this was after the driest Spring and just before a drought order came in and we then had the wettest May and June.
If you'd like to see the whole process day by day - you can find a selection of photos on Flickr.

Many thanks to the South Downs National Park for helping us to fund this project and PHB Contractors for doing such a great job.

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First Swallow Of Summer

Another gorgeous Spring day - although with the temperatures outside it's warmer than many Summer days.  As I jogged across the playing fields a swallow flew over - my first one of the year.  Seemed to a solitary one as I didn't spot any others.

A short run up to the Tye today, as our newly refurbished dewpond is being filled by our very obliging local firemen and with permission from Southern Water.  Given that water is a bit of an issue here at the moment.

I was too late to see the start of it all, as I could only get up there in my lunch break, and arrived to find the hose trailing from the nearby hydrant to fill the pond.

Typically we've had no rain since the pond was finished and it needed to be filled as soon as possible - otherwise the clay lining is likely to dry out and crack, which means if it gets too damaged it won't hold water and we wouldn't want that having just spent all that money and effort on getting it refurbished.

Can't wait to see it filling up with wildlife, although we've still got a bit of work to do around it, such as replacing the fencing and planting a protective hedge round one side.

If you want to see the full sequence of photos from start to finish you'll find them here on Flickr.

Many thanks to one of our FoTT members - Brian Knight, for taking such great photos of the works on a regular basis.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Changes And Calving At Pulborough

After a long gap - I finally found a free weekend to head over to RSPB Pulborough for a day in the hides.  Typically, not as hot and sunny as it had been earlier in the week, in fact I had to head back up from the hides at lunch time in order to dig out another layer or two - along with hat, scarf and gloves!

The usual suspects were already out and about and I was impressed to see how the water levels have changed with the new sluices installed over the last few months.  Even the South Brook 'pond' was fuller than I've ever seen it - except when the whole area has flooded when the river bursts it's banks.  The North Brooks were very full with very little mud and the 'fingers' almost submerged.  All this despite the lack of rain - so something is obviously working.

They've also been busy clearing ditches, putting up information boards and whiteboards in the hides and creating screening along the trails.  It's great to see how much the reserve has changed in the few months since I was last here.

Meanwhile - back to the birds.  Still a few wildfowl out on the Brooks - both North and South.  I started out going anti-clockwise as the most variety is likely to be on the North Brooks.  There was a flock of fieldfares in the field alongside Green Lane - surprised they were still around.  There were also plenty of hirudines appearing in small groups every now and then - swallow, sand martin and house martin.

The pink-footed goose was also out feeding with the Canada geese and greylags.  Easy to see the difference alongside the greylag.  Smaller and with a dark head, neck and darker bill.  It's always worth carefully checking out flocks of geese and gulls for those rarer birds.  Not being a birding expert, I'm sure I often miss them, so it's always useful having an expert in tow.

Walking round towards Winpenny hide, one of the British White cows was giving birth in the field away from the rest of the herd.  I don't know how long she'd been lying down but within a few minutes of her obvious straining the birth sac appeared and within fifteen minutes out came the calf.
As soon as she'd given birth, she started bellowing which bought all the other cows around her - both to have a sniff at the new arrival and presumably as a protective mechanism.

She spent the next twenty minutes licking it and trying to nudge it to it's feet and continuing to bellow.  It did eventually make a few unsteady attempts to stand before I left them and continued to Winpenny hide.  An amazing thing to watch.

From Winpenny a got a brief glimpse of the water vole in the ditch outside the hide but very little else.  There was a solitary snipe in the grasses to the left of West Mead hide as well as the pair of Ruddy Shelduck - definitely not local but very pretty nonetheless.

One looks like a hybrid and they're probably escapees from a local collection (another one).

Back after lunch and Mum and the calf had moved to another part of the field and she was now munching on the afterbirth!  Meanwhile the elusive plovers were tracked down to the North Brooks and turned out to be two Ringed Plovers and one Little Ringed Plover (LRP).  Well, I think that was the final decision, it was the source of much discussion even amongst the experts - especially when they're so far off that eye rings aren't always visible but there was a difference in size which seemed to be the deciding factor.  I'm used to seeing LRPs here not not often a ringed.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Friendly blackbirds and flapping woodpigeons

A very tame female blackbird on the lawn next to me as I dig out the weeds in the lawn - picking out worms, slugs and other creatures now exposed.  She also had a good bath in the pond only a few feet away.  The lawn now looks as if it's been dug up by a family of small badgers.

The minute I come in from the garden the birds flock in.  Several starlings probing the lawn and revelling in the freshly filled bird bath.  A few house sparrows on the feeder and the woodpigeons are having their usual flapping battle, chasing each other around the garden.  I still haven't worked out whether it's territorial males or an amorous male pursuing a female.  Being ignored by another pair who are feeding in the ivy.

A pair of collared doves like to perch precariously on top of the feeders, tentatively peering around and checking out the best route of attack or checking the coast is clear to get at the seed.  One attempted to land on a rather too thin branch of the quince before deciding it was far to heavy for it as it just sank under it's weight.

The goldfinches have also come in - they're regulars at this time of day - usually appearing in the morning and afternoon.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Hosepipe bans for the South-East

For those affected counties in the South East of England, the hosepipe ban came in to effect today.

So what does this mean for householders?
  • No watering a garden using a hosepipe.
  • No cleaning a car using a hosepipe.
  • No cleaning a boat using a hosepipe.
  • No filling or maintaining a domestic swimming pool
  • No filling or maintaining a domestic pond
  • No filling a fountain.
  • No hosing down a path, patio or artificial outdoor surface using a hosepipe.
  • No watering of plants using a hosepipe.

There are exceptions for some businesses, sporting events and the disabled.

watering cans
watering cans (Photo credit: ridoba (richard bates))
It's not something I'm worried about.  At least not yet.  I have three water butts, full to the brim.  One dustbin - also holding water and one large container, that was a patio pond but will now become a planter.

As and when I do need to start watering the garden more seriously, I'll start recycling water.  The garden doesn't need the pristine, pure water that comes out of the tap or rainwater.  It will be just as happy with my recycled washing up and shower water.  Just stick a plug in so it doesn't all run away and then fill a few watering cans with it.  Keeps you fit walking up and down the stairs to the garden.

We all need to do our bit to save water and not just see it as an infinite resource.

Having called a hosepipe ban in April - it's probably guaranteed that we'll have the wettest Summer ever, especially with the Jubilee and the Olympics coming up.
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