Sunday, February 26, 2012

New Year

Every year bright and early on 1st January birders all over the country start their year list. From dawn, every new call and sound, every bird flying across the horizon, is recorded diligently on the new list. Then often out to a full range of birding sites to try and hit the magic 100 on 1st Jan.

There’s some snags with this. It’s a bit anti-social as family and friends are often around enjoying the break. There’s quite a good chance of being drunk or hungover. And the weather isn’t often ideal for charging round the country – black ice and daylight for about an hour a day. Usually I pass up the opportunity.

More significantly, is this the right time to start the birding year? Other calendars don’t start on the 1st Jan. The financial year starts on 5th April. And the academic year starts variably in September or October. There’s no reason why 1st Jan should mark the start of the birding year. So I got thinking what the most sensible date to start the birding year should be?

We know that finding a clean date is impossible, but the 1st of Jan is smack bang in the middle of a season. Cold snaps can cause influxes and these may occur either side of the new year divide. Winter is split across two recording periods for no good birding reason. We know the simple birding seasons of migration, breeding, migration back, and wintering are not neat activities with clear start and end dates. There’s always overlap, whether its in June when those waders on the local scrape might be late migrating north, or early migrating back, and then in winter birds move around due to cold spells. But if there is such a thing as a year end it would surely be at the end of winter. The new breeding year is set to start and the whole business of migration is about to start again.

My first guess was 14th Feb. A notable date, and conveniently allows some or all of Feb half term to fall in the new year. But the reality of winter is that the last week of Jan and the first two weeks of Feb are often the coldest, so we could, as this year, be in the middle of a cold snap with all sorts of birds still moving around. So our year-end should occur after this. From the other end, the spring equinox date of 21st March is a candidate; equality of daylight and night with a proper recognised start of spring ,but some migrants have already arrived at this time so this is too late. We need to be clear of any significant migrants turning up.

I’ve chosen 1st March. It’s a reasonably clear date, and its in a clear space unlikely to be in the middle of major cold-weather movements, and well before the spring migration has started. I’m looking forward to starting the new year this week. Just a few weeks before it starts to fill up with spring migrants, and when we get to the middle of winter I can still keep all the birds form a single season on one list.

A couple of weeks ago the weather was like the shots below. But today its warm. Blossom is beginning to appear. From reports around the country the Lapwings and Curlews are back on the moors, and Herons are nesting in Regents Park. Spring is almost here. Time for a new start, a new year, and a new list.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Half Term

Yes its half term, so its a few days in Weymouth again. There are Hume’s Warbler, and a Richard’s Pipit on the fleet, an elusive Iceland Gull and a Glossy Ibis. I saw none of them, but had one of the best half-terms I’ve had. Mainly due to a glorious quarter hour this morning at Lodmoor.

I was at the postbox on Beachdown Way watching a Marsh Harrier quartering the reeds. It had a pop at something, and for a moment I thought it was an owl, but through the scope it was obviously a Bittern. I spent the next fifteen minutes with it filling the frame. It was stationary mainly, perched on top of some compacted reed stems, stretching its neck, looking around and occasionally frilling up its neck. Then, a second bird appeared on the edge of the reeds and pecked around for a while before heading back into the reeds.

It’s amazing what a lift a sighting like that gives you. I practically floated round the rest of the reserve. It’s only the second sighting I’ve had in Weymouth in eight years of coming down regularly, and completely unexpected to see these birds wandering around. Perhaps it’s a regular spot - I’ll keep checking. If you go, stand by the Postbox on Beachdown Way, look towards the rubbish disposal site, and then look at the reeds between the two large areas of water between you and the dump.

Otherwise: C200 Lapwings was a reserve record for me, 10 Dunlin, c10 Wigeon, a Water Pipit, and offshore a Great Northern Diver. A male Pintail was at Radipole, and on the Fleet from the bridging camp on 14th were 3 Avocets, 6 Goldeneye, plenty of Mergansers, Curlews, Oyk’s and Brent Geese, and Mediterranean Gulls in their hundreds. And a Stonechat.

It’s odd what an impression you get of a place on a first visit. When I started watching Lodmoor in winter 2003 there was a Peregrine that sat on the central concrete block and terrorised the birds, and Stonechats were regular around the reserve. I assumed every winter was like that, but Peregrine is a scarce sighting for me here since and Stonechats come and go.

Finally some pictures from Radipole.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Can we have our birds back please?


The snow and continental freeze has brought all sorts of unusual birds to nearby areas, including a few Short-Eared Owls just east of the area . Sadly nothing here today. I took a trudge round the Stort valley south of Sawbo with camera to record what few birds there are. Can we have our missing birds back please?

The scrape is full (good!) but frozen (bad!). A couple of Snipe burst out of ditches. Lots of Wood Pigeons, Rooks and Jackdaws. But some noticeable absences; no Yellowhammers or Reed Buntings, the Kestrels have absconded, temporarily I hope. There were a couple of Meadow Pipits. The Fieldfares that have invaded the area were flying manically around. There were a few Song Thrushes around - I'm not sure if they are immigrants or just our normal birds being a bit more obvious.

On Sunday there was a flock of 70 Lapwing over the park. I thought I heard one today, but in the turned out to be just a bronchitic Fieldfare.

The river has half frozen. There were a couple of strange holes. Like giant spiders have crashed through the ice. Perhaps they will emerge in the spring to savage the area.

Still, its just about the end of this birding year, and the new one will start soon, so perhaps its appropriate that the patch is fairly barren at the moment.

End of the year? What? Well it is according to my calendar. I'll post on that soon.