With June bursting on to the scene, birding can seem to slow down. While our feathered friends might appear a little quieter there is still loads to amuse me on my strolls.
I am no expert on insects but I do love a dragonfly. There is something about the way they are masters of the air – even more so than the some of the birds I love. There are not many creatures that can whizz by at 100 mph and stop instantly, hover and shoot off in a completely different direction. Although this is the thing I love about them it is also something I hate because it is really difficult to identify them if they are just a blur
Luckily they do settle occasionally and then I can try my best to tell if it a scarce chaser or a broad bodied one….
The dragonflies little relatives – the damselflies – are no better….was that a common blue or an azure? or maybe a variable? I think I need more practice at this so I’ll head off to some of the great Suffolk Coast dragonfly sites that are dotted around this beautiful area – maybe Darsham or Carlton Marshes 🙂
The weather was just right for a stroll, so I dusted off my trusty bins and off I went. Today, I avoided the normal birding sites and tried exploring a place that was new to me. That place was Walberswick National Nature reserve. I have been to parts of this beautiful area before, with it’s mosaic of habitats such as reedbeds, woodland and heath but never this particular spot. What treasures would it hold for me?
Too be honest, not much this morning but just the walk was enough to make me happy….there were a few buzzards drifting gracefully across the blue skies, mobbed by a few half-hearted crows but no honey buzzards to bump up my year list….the great views across to Walberswick church and in the distance, Southwold lighthouse were uninterrupted by herds of wildebeest but how could I be unhappy with seeing those cute lambs? 🙂
Birding is not all about getting the rarest bird every time you go out. At least not for me. It is about taking in the beautiful, commonplace stuff that is always there and being able to enjoy it 🙂
Still, I did get a kick out of seeing three Bee-Eaters zoom over the road on the drive back 🙂
This week, after a half term of watching birds and going to great birding spots like Minsmere and Dunwich Heath, I find myself back at work and dreamily staring out of windows looking at any avian life I can get. At some points I have even been rationed to hearing bird songs and testing myself on what one of my feathered friends could be making such a sound. The most unusual sound this week is the Ring-necked Parakeets which noisily tear about the skies over the suburban roofs where I work. These seem totally out of place but do wake me up on my way to work. Apart from these exotics, the normal songs I hear include robins, blue tits, house sparrows, wood pigeons and crows.
This dearth of birdsong reminds me just how lucky I am on the Suffolk Coast. When I wake up on the weekend it is like a wall of sound coming from every tree, bush and roof top. Song Thrush competing with Blackbirds and Robins….Wrens hammering out amazing trills from their tiny bodies….Goldcrests in the conifers….Bullfinches with their pathetic song from such a beautiful finch….Gulls yelling, Rooks rooking and Dunnocks making a sound like squeaky wheels….all these and many more all doing their thing.
All this without leaving my house and going to one of my favourite spots. Roll on the weekend and the time when I can really test my birding ears as well as my eyes.
It was Halesworth’s open gardens on Sunday. A chance to nose around other peoples houses, well their backyards anyhow, and all in a good cause….Halesworth in Bloom. As is usual with me when I go around such events, I have my bins draped around my neck just in case something exciting leaps out at me. There is nothing worse than having a potential rarity appear and you are unprepared….unlike those scouts.
As I crossed the river into the town park a flash of yellow caught my eye….in a flash my bins were in front of my eyes and trained on not one but two beautiful grey wagtails flitting back and forth along the waterway. First of all, whoever named these gorgeous little chaps would never get a job describing paints for Dulux. Grey on the top, yes, but how can you miss that beautiful yellow underside that is always the first thing to catch my eye. That and the amazing long tail that never stops wagging. Ok, I guess the wagtail part of the name is fair enough 🙂
The other two ‘common’ wagtails that you’d find in the UK are of course, the Pied – cheeky little chaps that are so fond of tarmac and chasing invisible bits of food across school playgrounds and car parks – and Yellow – beautiful wagtails that like fields with cows in summer having migrated here from Africa.
It is such a shame that so many people have missed seeing such beautiful birds that exist right under our noses. I know it always brightens my day when I see these wonders flash by. 🙂
I’ve been getting some stick lately for not mowing my lawn….all this abuse got me thinking, ‘what is this obsession with bowling green standard turf’?…. don’t get me wrong such manicured lawns have their place in venues like Wembley or Lord’s….it is not laziness that allows my grass to grow to a length which hinders my croquet game but my love of nature…even in my little patch I can see the difference in biodiversity to my neighbours’….one of the most obvious is the sheer numbers of insects that visit and the bats that circle overhead but do not linger much just over the fences either side of me.
This got me thinking bigger than just my lawn….when on my way to birding trips and watching the council gang mowers and others trimming their verges to an inch of their lives…..what would be the effect if we just let them grow a bit, turning them into nature reserves?
I did a quick calculation….my drive to Minsmere is about 11 miles…if you estimate a verge of a metre each side of the road then that’s about 35000 square metres…..Minsmere is itself only 97000 square metres….so a nature reserve over a third of the size of Minsmere could be created by just using our mowers a bit less
This was just a quick bit of adding up but I’m sure there is the potential to do something amazing…..Councils could even train their mowing gangs to be wardens of the roadside verges and what’s wrong with seeing wildflowers and all the nature that goes with it along the side of roads? …..I for one do not feel guilty for having long grass….
A couple of weeks ago I was bemoaning the fact that a Red-Footed Falcon was flying about Walberswick while I couldn’t get to see it….damn work Anyway, would you believe it but one turns up at Dunwich Heath, so off I trot and manage to get the little beauty….A life tick none-the-less….it hung around for the next couple of days commuting between Dunwich Heath and Minsmere (where I managed to see it two days later).
I did go back to Dunwich and try to see the grey and red falcon catching dragonflies acrobatically on the wing again but failed. All was not lost though as I did get nice views of Dartford Warblers and got sidetracked by the cafe run by the National Trust. The curried butternut squash tart followed by a double chocolate ice cream helped numb the pain of missing out on the falcon 🙂
Who in their right mind would get up at 4.30 am to go birding? …..OK I hold my hands up, I would but then it was in a good cause. There’s been a Savi’s Warbler at Minsmere now for a few weeks and I’d never seen one, so up I get…..the surprising thing was that I wasn’t even the first to rock up at the Island Mere hide at that ungodly hour. I guess that this little bird with the reeling song is enough to get some birders leaving the comfort of a warm bed to stare at a reed bed 🙂
The Savi’s Warbler wasn’t the only bird singing that morning….the group of backing singers included Booming Bittern, Wailing Water Rail and Calling Cuckoo plus cameos from Bearded Tits, Reed and Sedge Warblers plus scratchy Sand Martins……now tell me that’s not worth getting up for 🙂
Where to go when you’re trying to avoid the crowds of Southwold or Minsmere on a bank holiday Monday?…..I know, I’ll go to Hen Reed-beds…..nice easy stroll out to look out over the Blyth estuary and maybe get something interesting.
Straight away on getting the ‘scope out of the car, a Bittern boomed and was soon joined by the rhythmic scratchiness of reed and sedge warblers. Marsh harriers are always a great sight to see and one soon made an appearance, gliding gracefully over the reed beds and annoying the bearded tits and grey-lag geese no doubt. My favourite bird of the day though had to be the Wheatear who very kindly posed for a few (not very professional) pictures….I think those in the know call them ‘record shots’ 🙂
I was just sitting in my garden, enjoying the sunshine and a cool beverage when I heard a noise I wasn’t expecting to hear. It was the call of a Mediterranean Gull. Surely not I hear you say, they must be only found in the Mediterranean…..but no. Apparently, up until the 1950s they were rare in these parts but have expanded since. I remember in the 80’s travelling quite a distance to get these posh versions of a black headed gull onto my life list but now a trip to Minsmere or the Blyth Estuary normally turns one up (in Minsmere’s case they have quite a colony. If you’ve yet to see one look out for a bird a little bigger than Black-headed Gull with a properly black hood (black headed have brown hoods….I know who’d have thought it 🙂 ) The hood also reaches further down it’s neck…also listen out for the thing that distracted me from my beer….it’s mewing type call not like the kawing one of the black-headed gull at all
Sometimes I think that birds have a sixth sense. Just today I heard of a Red-footed falcon at Walberswick just a few minutes away from my home. At least it would have been had I not been at work a hundred odd miles away….grrrr.
The Red-Footed Falcon would have been a life tick for me as well….I’m just hoping that it hangs around til the weekend when I can admire this amazing bird of prey in all it’s glory. Looking superficially like a Kestrel or a Hobby but with dark grey body and red ‘trousers’ and backside it must be a great sight to see as it snatches insects while they whizz around. Who knows? One day I might actually see one…..