Tuesday 29 April 2014

If You Go Down To the Woods Today

Nagshead Nature Reserve, Forest of Dean Gloucestershire April 28 Sunny 

In the heart of the Forest of Dean, Nagshead Nature Reserve (NNR) Nagshead Nature Reserve
has a series of scenic trails through stands of ancient Oak and Beech trees. The forest floor at this time of year is carpeted with Bluebells while in the canopy Tree Pipits and Pied Flycatchers have returned to nest. The cacophony of bird song is something to behold. Starting at 5 a.m. and until after dark I have never heard so much birdsong anywhere. Later in the month Nightjars will be heard.
As I settled into one of the two hides (blinds) a pair of Song Thrush come to drink and bathe in a small pond, a rabbit busily feeds in the open, despite the chance of being predated by a nearby Buzzard and in the distance a Blackbird sings from the branches.
Blackbird (Turdus merula)

The Blackbird is the most common resident breeding bird in the UK. The Blackbird leads the dawn chorus and often sings late at night. The male bird (above) is jet black while the female is brown. They usually have two or three broods but have been known to produce as many as five.

A Song Thrush (Turdus philomelus) takes a bath.
As I was observing the Song Thrush bathing, my attention was caught by the sudden flash of black and white about thirty feet away, finally I get to see but not photograph a Pied Flycatcher. As I looked through my binoculars I noticed some movement behind the birds. Imagine my surprise when not one but six boar, a sow and her brood appeared. Slowly over a period of fifteen minutes they  ventured  out into the glade next to the pond. From my elevated view I watched them for an hour.
I have provided a link to those who are interested in how the boar, which escaped from a farm near Ross-on -Wye have over the years multiplied and have polarized the community by their sometimes destructive presence.

A young boar comes down to drink at the Campbell Hide.

The boar are about the size of a labrador dog. There are an estimated 800 of them in the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley and they are spreading rapidly.

Good Birding 
John Gordon

Sunday 27 April 2014

Cross Country Bird Trip to Gibraltar Point UK

 Journey to Lincolnshire April 22-23 Sunny

Although the main purposes of my visit to the UK is to spend time with family any chance to sneak off birding is always a welcome diversion. While most of my family live in the Wye Valley near St Briavels the other half live near the East coast in Louth, Lincolnshire. 
Lincolnshire is what Saskatachewan is to Canada. Flat, large farms, acres of monoculture, ancient hedgerows, a smattering of rolling hills called The Wolds. An added bonus is the proximity to the Wash, itself part of a major migration flyway.
As I drove around the back roads, the hedgerows were alive with birds. I saw pairs of LBJ's while waiting for a traffic light to turn red, their long tails held high as they foraged next to the busy road. I have no idea what they were, I saw many birds which were unfamiliar while driving but they'll always be another day.
The Lincolnshire Wolds on the way from Louth to Skegness and Gibraltar Point.

I made the six hour car journey across the Uk from Gloucestershire to Louth. My first birding stop was a short break at Hartsholme Country Park just off the Lincoln bypass. The park is operated by the City of Lincoln, a free car park, interpretive centre and extensive walks including lakes, heath and forest make it a great place to visit. The Great Crested Grebes and two Red-crested Pochard (a rare visitor but most likely escapees from a collection) were the first birds I photographed.
Great Crested Grebe )Podicep cristatus)
Unmistakeable and largest of the European grebes. Grebes nests inland and winter in protected areas on the coast.
The Great Crested Grebe was almost exterminated as their feathers was in high demand for women's hats. A century ago on forty-two pairs were left in the UK but today numbers have recovered.

Then it was on to family in the historic market town of Louth for the family visit. They weren't interested in going birding but were very proud to show me the blackbird nest at the bottom of the garden. 
Next day I was off to Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve. The location was featured in the April edition of Birdwatch magazine and the excellent article made my decision where to bird an easy one. The start point for me was the Beach car park a few miles south of Skegness.

The Gibraltar Point (GP) is comprised of a mixture sand dunes, extensive beaches, numerous ponds, mixed hedgerow and marshlands. The morning I arrived a Hoopoe was briefly spotted. I was happy to spot anything but a Hoopoe would have been an amazing. Anyway, a Whitethroat would be my first "Lifer" at GP and they were singing everywhere. They are not the most easy bird to approach, the bird books describe them as "skulking and secretive" a very apt description.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
This bird was hanging out at the Beach parking lot.
Interpretive signage provides the visitor with a well rounded view of the reserve.
 Then I came across a Meadow Pipit (below) sitting on a fence pole. Anyone like to point out if I have made a "Howler" with the I.D.
Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis

To my left near the what used to be a freshwater marsh (the storms and sea surge of 2013 saw the marsh being inundated with saltwater) slowly though the scarred landscape is turning green again. Out of the corner of my eye I see a Skylark flying by, it lands with crest raised. They are becoming one of my favourite birds to watch, their airborne acrobatics and song can last fifteen minutes, remarkable!

Skylark (Alauda  arvensis)

Then in the bushes were a Reed Bunting and Goldfinch and Blue Tits and at the main parking lot three more Meadow Pipits and a mystery bird (below) that may be a female Reed Bunting but could it be another sparrow.

Reed Bunting (female)

Without much birding experience in the UK identification can be hard. I have a few books but none seem as good as the Sibley's I am using in Canada.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Found year round in the UK and most of Europe.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricacapilla)
A year round UK resident and across Europe

A short walk through the forested area turned up Blackcap, Green finch, more Goldfinch. Past the forest area three hides gave excellent views of Lapwing displaying, a Hen Harrier harassing Black-headed Gulls who are nesting on the marsh.

A Green Finch (Carduelis chloris) comes down to drink. Note the banding. GP has a banding station.
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Continuing through the reserve to the marshes I saw a new bird fly overhead. As I made my way to one of the three blinds (hides) I could see it was a Lapwing making a noisy and acrobatic display. I don't have to tell any birder how exciting it is when a new species is spotted. As I settled in and opened the viewing panels I was greeting by a colony of breeding birds including Shelduck, Black headed Gulls, Mute Swans, Avocet, Lapwing and probably other species. Rooks were collecting tufts of grass, a Pheasant wandered by and a Pied Wagtail landed twenty feet in front of me.
Pied Wagtail (motacilla alba)
A common year round resident throughout the UK and Europe.

Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)
A very common gull especially inland. Here this pair bond before mating. The Black-headed Gull is one of the commonest gulls in the UK and often nests inland on lake and marshes.

Lapwing (Vanellus vanelllus)

Lapwings flies over its territory to attract a female.
Finally .. but not least and this is where some positive feedback would be great. What is this species?
Mystery bird perhaps a Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff, my money is on Chiffchaff.
I hope you have enjoyed this ramble through Gibraltar Point. Please excuse any typos, the intermittent internet coverage has made blogging a little challenging but so far the GP trip has provided me another 9 "Lifers" for a total of 34 for the trip so far.

For more information on Gibraltar Point follow the link.

Good Birding 
John Gordon

Monday 21 April 2014

The Royal Forest of Dean

Robin (Erithachus rubella)
Britain's most familiar bird, the Robin can be seen year round in the UK.
April 18 2014 The Royal Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire UK Sunny
I emigrated to Canada on 1978, actually I went over for "a visit" and never returned except to visit my family who still live near St Briavels and Brockweir.
Most of my early trips back would find me fishing at Lydbrook for chub or searching out tench and carp but over the years I found bird watching a far more enjoyable way to enjoy nature. I can't remember seeing any birds while I sat and waited for a bite, I just wasn't aware of them.
My first years in Canada were spent establishing myself and after loosing my $5 Instamatic camera I received a Pentax K1000 and a 50 mm lens for Christmas. I photographed a few birds here and there and became a newspaper photographer. I covered all sorts of events in my thirty year career and after retiring from the press in April 2011 I began photographing birds. When I come over to the UK I try to take advantage of all the wonderful birding here. A couple of years ago I visited the Farne Islands and last year the Highlands of Scotland.
After Slimbridge, my sights were set on the Forest of Dean and will be going to the Newport Wetlands when I have a chance. Other locations I hope to visit are Frampton and Nagshead.
Before I left Vancouver I put out a few "feelers" to see whether any birders would like to go out together. I received a reply from Ruardean and Cheltenham club birder Tim Fletcher who led me on a trail through the recently cleared area around Woorgreens near the Speech House. We had been on the trail only a few minutes when he spotted a pair of Siskins. I "phissed" them in and one posed for me in the brilliant morning sun.
Siskin (Carduelis spinus)
Found across Europe and winters toward the Mediterranean.

Tim and I then left the wooded trail and entered the open heath where the gorse with its yellow flowers and heather make the perfect open habitat for a plethora of bird species, dragonflies, amphibians and reptiles including the adder.
We were surrounded by birds, many were in pairs. The first was a Tree Pipit which came out to see what we were up to. Thank goodness Tim knows his British birds and birdsong.
A very distant record shot of Willow Warbler (Phyllosopus Trochhilus)
The Willow Warbler can be found near open heath or near new plantations. It breeds across Europe and winters in Africa.Next up were a pair of Jays, Tree Creeper, Wren, Robin, Greylag Goose flying overhead, Buzzard, a distant Common Redstart,  a Blackcap, then a Willow Warbler and Song Thrush. The Cuckoo was calling and three Fallow Deer wandered by but took off before I could get my camera on them. It was too early for the dragonflies but a series of shallow ponds have been created on the heath and soon they should be emerging.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
This bird was one of a pair that were thrashing around in the undergrowth doing what birds do when it obliged me by popping up onto a branch about twenty feet away.
Widespread across Britain and Europe the Song Thrush migrates south during the winter.

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
This species likes open heath and migrates to Africa for the winter.

Then it was to Woorgrens Lake where we watched Little Grebe feeding and other common waterfowl. The next stop was Cannop Ponds but it was teeming by Easter holidaymakers enjoying the sun.
However the bird feeder was producing, A Marsh, Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Nuthatch came for seed. The Mandarin Ducks were nowhere to be seen but a Cormorant stood guard near the pathway. Tim told me there have been some "good birds" seen at Cannop over the years.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Found across Europe and migrates south toward North Africa.

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)

The Forest of Dean is somewhere I plan to return to after my trip to Lincolnshire where I am told the birding can be quite good at this time of year, funny coincidence that!

Good Birding 

John Gordon

Sunday 20 April 2014

Slimbridge Wetland Centre UK

         April 17 2014 Slimbridge Wetland Centre. Nr Bristol and Gloucester UK Sunny
The 800 acre Ramsar site attracts a diverse range of birds that winter and summer there. There are ponds, fields, hedgerows and shoreline. Here the Skylark can be found on undisturbed grassland and during migration the Severn Estuary acts as a funnel attracting a myriad of species to Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties.

A full description of the site can be found at wwt.org.uk/slimbridge

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
This is one of my favourite UK birds. The goldfinch was brought to dangerously low numbers at the end of the last century  by extensive trapping for the cage bird trade.
In 1860 132,000 were trapped near Worthing in Sussex. A flock is referred to as "charms" of Goldfinch. They can be found feeding on the heads of thistles is similar fashion to the American Goldfinch. UK Populations can be either sedentary or migratory.
This picture was taken at the Slimbridge car park while I waited  and waited for the centre to open at the outrageously late 9.30 a.m.

To visit, the closest local airport is Bristol but both Heathrow or Gatwick 9 are only two hours away. The site is similar to Vancouver's Reifel but in addition has a captive bird area where one can see such rarities as the Redhead Duck, Smew and Chilean Flamingos. Outside of that enclosure are a variety of habitats that contain the wild birds such as the Avocet, Common Eurasian Crane and Little Egret.
As I arrived I quickly let behind the "exotics" and headed for the South lake where I found the Cranes that have now returned to the UK after 400 years of absence. A pair were nesting in the middle of the lake. A pair of Greylag Geese were defending their territory while three Shelduck rested on the mudflats. Three 'Lifers" in five minutes can't be bad but more was to come. A fellow birdwatcher pointed out a Sandpiper then an Oystercatcher.
Eurasian Common Crane. (Wild Birds)
These cranes were re-located to the Somerset Levels near Glastonbury, they have however returned to Slimbridge. I saw eight or nine cranes during the day. Note the radio transmitters on the legs to monitor their locations. As I have just arrived in the Uk I will have to do some more research but their return to the Severn Estuary has been a major success story.
The cranes were absent from the UK for nearly 400 years before a small population re-colonized the Norfolk Broads in 1979. A breeding program is bringing these birds back from the brink.
A Little Egret forages in the Slimbridge wetlands. 

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
The Little Egret  can be found in estuaries on the English south and east coast
and winters in the Mediterranean. Recently the bird is spreading its range to the west coast of the U.K.

Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos)
This head-bobbing sandpiper, about the size of a Starling breeds in Europe, Asia, winters
 in Africa and even Australia.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
The Black-tailed Godwit uses Britain as a staging post on their spring and autumn migrations. They can often be seen with Knot and Oystercatchers. They nest and breed in northern Russian and Scandanavia.

A very distant shot of an Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
The last UK breeding colony of Avocets at Salthouse in Norfolk was wiped out
in 1825.
The feathers were use for fishing flies, their eggs to bake cakes. They returned to the east coast of the UK just after the the Second World War probably dislodged by wartime bombing in Holland. By 1957 a 100 pairs were breeding in East Anglia. The birds now breed down the east coast of England, Slimbridge and elsewhere.

A Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) being chased by a Crane.

The Tufted Duck (aytthya fuligula) is a common bird in the UK. Most birds winter south of their
breeding range, some reaching as far north as Africa and Asia.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
A Chiffchaff that nests by mid-April and stays in the UK until the autumn. Found throughout the UK and most of Europe.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
A common summer visitor to the UK. The Cuckoo finds the Sedge Warbler one of the more accessible victims in the same manner as the Brown-headed Cowbird. It winters in marshy regions of tropical Africa.

This Great Tit (Parus major) was feeding on seeds in the same reed bed as the warblers above.
They are sometimes referred to as the 'gardeners friend" as they eat thousands of caterpillars and insects.
In the afternoon I found a bird feeding station and was able to get a few close-ups of some common birds.
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
The Reed Bunting feeds mainly off marsh plants, including snail, beetles, caterpillars and insects. 

Green Finch (Carduelischloris)
This beautiful bird is widespread in the UK except the Shetlands.

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
The Jackdaw is a very common bird at Slimbridge and the UK. At the house I am saying at in the Wye Valley there are two pairs nesting in the chimneys. They are a very social bird and use the same nest every year. British Jackdaws are mainly sedentary.
Wood-Pigeon Columba palumbus
The British farmers greatest enemy. The Wood-pigeon  feeds on newly sown seed and ripening grain. Despite being shot at the bird has adapted itself to gardens and parks. It is the largest  of the UK's pigeons and doves.

The first day of my UK birding trip began with a 5 a.m start at Slimbridge. After leaving the sights and sounds of Vancouver it took me a little while to find my feet .With all the new birds to be ticked off it was a perfect way to shake off the jet lag. Eventually, I ended the day 14 hours later with 20"Lifers" and a total of 36 Species.

Greylag Goose

Eurasian Common Crane
Common Sandpiper
Barnacle Goose
Lesser Black-headed Gull
Black-tailed Godwit
Little Egret
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Reed Bunting


My next post will be from the Royal Forest of Dean with Ruardean birder Tim Fletcher, until then,

Good Birding

John Gordon 

Sunday 13 April 2014

Here Today/Gone Tomorrow

April 10 2014 Deltaport Way/Tsawwassen. B.C  Overcast and Sunny Breaks Temp 

Here Today/Gone Tomorrow 

The Change of Seasons

Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichencis)
The fields and hedges from where these pictures were taken will soon be gone, soon to replaced by an enormous industrial complex. This country of Canada has always exploited resources and I suppose all this is just more"progress" We all live on what was once forest, swamp or grassland.
Less than a kilometre away a second coal port is planned. A kilometre east a shopping mall and a close by a subdivision is already taking shape. The outlook for areas bio-diversity is grim.
In the distance a flock of Eurasian and American Wigeon feed in a field, more than fifty percent is covered in fill. An old farmhouse with mature trees had its electricity supply cut as we photographed, so many dump trucks pass by us we can hardly hear the courtship songs of the Common Yellowthroat,  the House Finch and Savannah Sparrows. I tried to make some recordings but gave up. It was just too noisy.

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
A very distant shot of two House Finch. I watched them looking for a nest site.  The preferred location was a blackberry thicket on a piece of waste ground, a type of habitat often referred to as "unproductive" for agriculture but "ideal" for development. For the birds, a large part of the equation is missing.

Raptors Galore!
 Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
During the day, I saw two Cooper's darting in and out of hedgerows, flying low and fast and then perching on fence posts. The Deltaport area is rich in raptors year round. I just wonder for how long.
Older hedgerows hold more types of prey creating the perfect hunting ground for the Coopers Hawk.

Who's looking at who!

Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus)
It has been quite a few years since a Prairie Falcon has been seen in the Lower Mainland. This bird spent most of the winter in Brunswick Point but has recently expanded its territory to the Deltaport area.
A Prairie Falcon prepares to land on a fence post. This shows the extended plumage of this immature raptor from the rear. 
Red-tailed Hawk( Buteo jamaicencis)
At one time this Red-tailed Hawk, a Bald Eagle, a Cooper's Hawk and the Prairie Falcon vied for same territory. As I watched these birds I wonder about the fate of Townsend's the voles now entombed under tonnes of fill. Where there used to be six large fields only two remain. It's hard to watch it happen, the richest agricultural land in Canada being paved over.

Midday: Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty

Brant (Branta bernicla)
There were upwards of two thousand Brant feeding off the ferry terminal most probably on herring spawn. Too far way to photograph but excellent views through a scope. Note the horned Grebe in the distance. 

Distant shot of Brant by the Taxi rest area.

After much stalking I was able to get within fifty metres off this wary Horned Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
There were at least five in the bay and reports of a dozen or so at Point Roberts.

A Male Great blue Heron (Ardea herodias) brings in a branch to add to the nest at the Tsawwassen Heronry.

Birds noted April 10 2014 

Eurasian Wigeon

American Wigeon

Prairie Falcon

Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Bald Eagle 
Northern Harrier
Song and Savannah Sparrow
Common Yellowthroat
European Starling
Brewer's Blackbird
Brant (2000-3000 in one raft)
Common  Goldeneye
Canada Goose
Glaucous Wing Gull

Black Bellied Plover

Downy Woodpecker

American Robin

Great Blue Heron

Black Oystercatcher
Horned Grebe
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Loon
Northern Pintail
White-crowned Sparrow
European House Sparrow
Lesser Scaup
Northern Shoveler
Barn Swallow
Tree Swallow

If you have got this far in the blog I thank you for your patience. What started as a passing interest thirty years ago has become my passion. Birds and birding itself took second place to my career in as a community newspaper photographer. During that time I had the opportunity to photography a myriad of events even self assigning myself to photograph the Canucks, B.C. Lions, English Premier League Football, music legends like B.B. King, Leonard Cohen and best of all the Dalai Lama. The "Big Man" as he is affectionately called even came up to me in a press scrum and shook my hand. I have to say it was the highlight of my thirty year careers as a photojournalist. 
These days I find birding and bird photography the most rewarding for so many reasons I would need to write a book about it.
Much of my success I owe to the many birders who I have met since I started photographing birds seriously in April 2011, the fateful month the newspaper I worked for told my services were no longer needed. As it turned out the financial compensation softened the blow and changed my life for ever.
Today I couldn't be more happier walking around Brydon Lagoon with my Canon SX50HD point and shot or lugging around the "Big Gun"
Either way, birding has enriched my understanding of the natural world that surrounds me and us all. I couldn't think of anything I would be prefer to be doing with my life.

Good birding
John Gordon