Thursday, 20 September 2012

Refer to other blog...

Dear followers,

First of all, sorry about the lack of recent postings. Please be advised that in the interests of keeping all my blog postings on one page, I will from now on be posting all bird-related thoughts on my 'blog about everything else', a.k.a. Nick Young's World.

The link is below. The latest post (as of today) is about seeing a goldcrest in the middle of the City of London:

Thanks for reading!


Monday, 21 May 2012

Birdwatching among the scultures

Last Thursday I took the day off work to go out to the Henry Moore Foundation in rural Hertfordshire with relatives who were over from Canada. It’s worth a visit even if, like me, you think art might not be your thing – because the sculptures that are on display in the grounds of the farmhouse where the Moores moved to during the war are truly breathtaking.

Naturally, I took my binoculars to see what I could see. There were Robins in the hedgerows, a fleetingly-glimpsed House Sparrow, and plenty of Rooks in the field with the sheep. There’s a bird table in the garden by the visitors’ centre where I saw a pair of Great Tits.

Sighting of the day, though, was a Treecreeper making its way up a tree next to one of the barns that Moore converted into a studio. I’m not sure when I last saw one of those – I’ve checked my notes and I am pretty sure they’ve eluded me in Coldfall Wood. Now that was worth taking the binoculars for.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Watch out, there's a Jay about

If you’ve heard a harsh screech on the streets of East Finchley recently, you may have been listening to a Jay. According to several correspondents, there are a lot of them about.

Smaller than a woodpigeon, the Jay has a pinkish-fawn body, a distinctive black ‘moustache’, a black tail and white and blue patches on its wings. Despite being the most colourful members of the crow family, Jays are more often heard than seen as they are secretive birds. However, there have been sightings on streets and in gardens recently as nesting pairs have been busy gathering materials.

Although they are woodland birds (Coldfall Wood is an excellent place to see them), numbers in the suburbs have risen in recent years – and as that photo on the back page of the February edition of The Archer showed, East Finchley is nothing if not tree-lined!

Jays are best known for eating acorns, which they store in the autumn so they can eat them all year round. However, they also eat insects, beetles and even the eggs and nestlings of smaller birds – something for which they are considerably less notorious than their cousins the Magpies. As such, they may well have a negative impact on smaller birds as they will be looking for more food with which to feed their young at this time of year – although I have been told by a fellow-resident who’s had some in her garden that Jays themselves can be victims to persistent Carrion Crows in this regard.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Tuscan interlude

Last week I went on holiday to Tuscany with my wife and mother-in-law. We had a blast – I can’t recommend Tuscany highly enough as a holiday destination!

On the bird-front, I heard more than I saw – we were staying in a hilltop village called Panzano which is about half-way between Florence and Siena on the 222 ‘Chianti’ route.

I didn’t take my binoculars as we had to adhere to Ryanair's baggage weight allowances, but I did see quite a few birds on my walks around the village – lots of Tree Sparrows (recognisable by their brown caps), some Starlings, Blackbirds, Collard Doves, Woodpigeons, Magpies, Jackdaws and at one point I swear blind I saw a Buzzard circling over the fields looking for rabbits.

There were also plenty of evidence of nests! Most of the buildings in Panzano are pretty old so there are lots of cracks in the walls that birds seemed to be flying in and out of all the time.

I didn’t get many chances to take photos but here’s what I did manage.

A bird was flying in and out of this crack in the wall but it was so quick I couldn't identify it.
 Male Blackbird.
 Collard Dove.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Not your usual venue

Recently, I opted for a more unusual birdwatching venue in East Finchley.

The future of Stanley Road Playing Fields may be an ongoing cause for concern, but with the land itself fenced off I wondered which birds I would be able to see on the field from the footpath that runs between the playing fields and the local primary school.

The field backs onto a street called Leslie Road, where Sparrowhawks have been seen recently. A photo of one even made it onto the back page of this month’s edition of the local paper (I wrote the article although I wasn’t credited for it; I cannot and do not claim credit for the headline).

I wasn’t so lucky. My favourite sighting was that of a Carrion Crow perched on top of a disused floodlight pylon, surveying the landscape. He even stayed there for long enough to allow me to photograph him. Magpies were busy scavenging across the playing field itself, as were a few Rooks.

I could hear but not see a Blackbird. I think I’m getting better at identifying bird calls.

However, most of the birding action was to be seen on the edges of the field – just like the hedgerows at the sides of fields in the countryside! There were three types of tit in the bushes, and I also spotted a Dunnock and a Robin. A very small flock of Starlings (is five enough for a flock?) flew overheard.

On the non-avian front, I also managed to see three Orange-tip butterflies.

Bird notes from Friday 6th April 2012:

Carrion Crow 2
Rook 3
Magpie 2
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Starling 5
Great Tit

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A visitor!

My bird feeder has had a visitor!

A Robin on Sunday afternoon. He flew along, perched on top, flew away, figured out how to use the feeder, came back and grabbed a beak-full of seeds. I did not see this, of course. My wife pointed it out to me.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Local paper

As well as birdwatching, I also write for The Archer, the local volunteer-run newspaper here in East Finchley. I have combined these two interests for several articles – most recently a re-write of my blog entry about the Big Garden Birdwatch which has made the March edition (page 8 if you follow the link!).

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Often heard, seldom seen

There is an old patch of hedgerow in the park near where I work. I can only presume that it is the remnant of a field boundary from the days when what is now North London was mostly farmland (there is most definitely an old farmhouse, now a museum, nearby).

When walking past this patch, I often hear the distinctive ‘yaffle’ call of a Green Woodpecker. This is one of my favourite bird calls, although I do find it slightly mocking – as if the woodpecker is telling me that I can hear him, but I can’t see him.

I really should take my binoculars to work so I can do a spot of semi-serious birdwatching during my lunch hour.

Today, though, I heard two Green Woodpeckers calling to each other, and I even managed to figure out which tree one of them was calling from. I couldn’t see him though. I stood watching and listening for five minutes and then, just as I was about to give up, I saw a flash of yellow-green flying from the tree to another one. I only saw it for a couple of seconds, but it was most definitely the woodpecker.

Made my day.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Bird-related reading material

As well as birdwatching, reading is also a hobby of mine.

An ideal combination of the two, therefore, is reading books about birdwatching. There are quite a few books about birdwatching out there at the moment, by the likes of the excellent Stephen Moss (who has a regular birdwatching columns in the RSPB’s Birds magazine and The Guardian), veteran TV presenter and very enthusiastic birder Bill Oddie and old classics such as Gilbert White, still in print over 200 years after his death.

My current favourite, though, is this superb book by David Lindo. For the benefit of those readers who don’t already know, David is the Urban Birder and he can be found on TV (The One Show, BBC1), in print (Birds magazine, among others) and online (his website). As his nickname suggests, his forte is birdwatching in urban areas. This is his first book, and I am pleased to report that his infectious enthusiasm comes across in print as much as it does when he’s on the telly or when you meet him in real life (I saw him give a talk at the WildlifeXpo at Ally Pally last autumn).

In his book, David recounts his birding experiences from an early age – it’s a story of a lifelong hobby and fascination that many of us can associate with, and in David’s case it’s one that has taken him all over the world. At the heart of this book is a very simple and refreshingly optimistic message – one that I find myself quoting rather a lot. In birding, anything is possible; you can find birds anywhere. His birding philosophy, in fact, can be summed up in two words: Look up. You never know what you might see until you do.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A winter visitor in the park

The other day I went for a walk in the park near my office – Sunny Hill Park in Hendon for my lunch break, not an unusual event in itself.

What was unusual was one of my sightings in the park – a Fieldfare, no less. I have been on the lookout for these all winter but had been out of luck so far. The severe weather that we had until last week gave me hope as these birds usually only wander into urban areas when they have to in order to find food, but so far I hadn’t seen any this winter.

And then … there it was, perched in a tree next to the path, pecking away at some berries. I had to look twice, and without the aid of binoculars. At first I assumed it was a Song Thrush, but there was something not quite right about that deduction. I ruled out a Redwing because, well, there was no visible red patch on the flank and no clear white strip over the eye. Stepping a few yards along, I got a better look at the head. Yup, I thought, that’s grey. So is the rump for that matter. And the tail is dark. Could it be … well, there’s no-one else around to confirm it. But I’m confident in my judgement here. Fieldfare!

And then off he flew. And I walked off with a spring in my step.

Other sightings in the park included Starlings, Robins (plenty of these), Great Tits, Carrion Crows (plenty of them too) and gulls of the Herring and Black-headed varieties.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

South of the River

As someone who has been raised and now lives and works in North London, I usually have no reason to venture south of the Thames. Today, though, I was visiting relatives in Richmond which, it turns out, is a lovely part of the world. Richmond Park in particular is an area with much birdwatching potential – indeed, as vast open spaces in London go, it’s up there with the Heath. Naturally, I took the binoculars with me. After all, you never know what’s going to turn up.

After lunch, we went for a walk along the Thames and through part of the park. I’d like to mention at this point that the view from the top of Richmond Hill, looking out to the west over Glover’s Island and Twickenham, is glorious.

Weather-wise, it was a lot milder than it has been in London for much of the past two weeks (‘mild’ is a relative term at the moment – it was three or four degrees Celsius). Blue and Great Tits were there to be seen and heard in abundance, while along the River itself I saw Black-headed Gulls, Mallards and the odd Coot. In the trees by Petersham Nurseries, I spotted a couple of Redwings in the trees.

There are a lot of Robins to be seen and heard at the moment. They must be marking out their territories ahead of the breeding season. I must be getting better at identifying birds by their song as I just think ‘Robin’ as soon as I hear that ‘tic-tic’ sound.

Most abundant of all, though, were the Ring-necked Parakeets. Walking though Richmond Park shortly before dusk, the air was filled with the very distinctive sound of these birds as they sorted out their roosting arrangements.

All in all, a lovely day’s walk and some good sightings. Nothing out of the ordinary, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Something to listen to

It seems I’ve been watching wildlife programmes fronted by Simon King for many years – I can remember Bird Brain of Britain back in the 80s, and more recently I have enjoyed watching shows like Springwatch and Autumnwatch. I found out about his new podcast via the medium of Twitter – it’s him describing what he sees as he goes for an early morning walk. Worth listening to – I hope he goes on to do more.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Big Garden Birdwatch

It’s been the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend. Sadly I am rather hampered as far as this event goes by not having a garden (sorry if it seems like I’m going on about this a lot). So I took a short walk to my local park, Cherry Tree Wood, and did the hour there. Looking back at my notes (see below) I could’ve sworn there were more Blue Tits and Great Tits. I certainly heard many of them. But the survey is based on what you see at the end of the day.

The highlight was the Wren, which was perched on a branch just yards from me and gave off a burst of song before flying away.

Great Tit x2
Feral Pigeon x20
Blue Tit x2
Long-tailed Tit x1
Woodpigeon x1
Song Thrush x1
Robin x2
Magpie x1
Wren x1
Blackbird x1 (m)
Chaffinch x5 (2m, 3f)