Monday, 31 January 2011

One month in...

Only one bird added today - a Redshank heard calling from one of the Ivel Valley Pits.

(photograph courtesy of Katie Fuller:
So after one month of the Challenge, the scores are BTO 86, RSPB 81. After tearing into a 20+ tick lead, the BTO boys and girls have been pegged back through a combination of determination, persistence and downright sly tactics by the RSPB listers. 

Of the birds on the BTO list, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer and Chiffchaff should all fall fairly quickly and comfortably. Looking at it another way, only six species already under their belts will prove problematic: Goshawk (if the record is accepted by the Norfolk CR) ;-) , Hawfinch, Goosander, Bittern, Pink-footed Goose and Egyptian Goose.

As Nick and I concurred when we started, it should be close - and so it is proving.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Close but no cigar

Never mind about no photo Andy - will this do for now?

Not actually on the reserve but the adjacent Barnham Cross Common (though had I been on the reserve, I'd have seen all three from there!). I can live without HF on my personal Lakes yearlist for now though, safe in the knowledge that Andy has already done the honours, and that the Lodgers will be gripped ;-)

Actually it has been a day of close-but-no-cigars:

Closest Hawfinch to the Nunnery boundary: 43m
Closest Waxwing to the Nunnery boundary: 1.3km
Closest Hen Harrier to the Nunnery boundary: 7.8km
Closest Rough-legged Buzzard to the Nunnery boundary: 8.0km (for once I didn't care!)

Friday, 28 January 2011


This is DOM finding the gap in the trees for a reasonably close view of a reedbed and muddy edge. Today's target species was nailed here - Common Snipe - four of 'em. We scanned and waited for Jack, Water Rail, Cetti's and Bittern - all present here but seeing them is a different matter. Unlike the BTO folks, we're adding one or two each day rather than getting all the birds in one visit and having to resort to mammals. Not that we're at all jealous about regular Otter sightings...

BTO - We don't really just look out for birds!!!

With the bird list grinding to a worrying halt, it is time to turn our attentions to the other taxa and a fantastic half hour before work photographing the local Otters on the river....

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Behind you...

Bash and I did Stratford Road and the gravel pits from the southern perimeter of the reserve again this lunchtime - to good effect. 

First, we connected with the lone Barnacle Goose that has been with the Greylag throng in the Ivel Valley for the last few years. This bird originates from the Willington/ Roxton flock, so is Cat. C and thus tickable. Then a Collared Dove in a garden tree (another Lodge mega) was unblocked. Flushed with success, Richard scoped the only viewable part of Warren Villas and would you believe it? The only bird was a Shelduck! 

Finally, on our walk back to the office, a Kingfisher was calling from the tiny stream that runs off of the Ivel - another decent bird. We then found a tiny wader on Derek White's Eggs Pits, but at a mile range, couldn't decide whether it was a Western Sand or a Semi-p...

Another four tick day. The list moves to 79.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Nazgul: The fisherman's friend

Love 'em (like our resident Cormorant guru) or hate 'em (let's not go there) you can't ignore 'em: Nazgul are here to stay! [For the Tolkien-refusers amongst you, they're the improbable winged black dragony things that make a nuisance of themselves by trying to gobble up hobbits and the like]. The disappointing thing about today's motly gang is that sinensis is a) not safely IDable on extent of white on head - and I can never remember the Cormorant Coefficient Calculation when I need it - and b) not tickable anyway...

Virtual Lakes tour: Part I

Clearly another slow day today: I resorted to taking photos of scenery. If you look really hard though, you might see some of the highlights of my BirdTrack list for the day: Coot, Black-headed Gull and possibly even an uber-gripping Egyptian Goose tucked up in the island... be still my beating heart.

Anyway it does present the perfect opportunity for the first part of an exciting virtual Nunnery Lakes tour. And where more logical to start than the imaginatively named 'D Lake'? Yes you spotted the irony. Crap name or not, this is where it all happens when it comes to waterfowl; my one and only Lakes Smew (a cracking white nun at that), the spot for Goldeneye (where are you when we need you?) and the place where we'll finally nail Shoveler for the year (I predict September...). Today? 3 Goosanders and a modest group of 4 Gadwall. Hmmm...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A four tick day

Four species have fallen to Lodge birders today: first, a Bullfinch in Sandy Heath Quarry, then Great Crested Grebe on Warren Villas NR, a Brambling was seen in front of the hide and finally, a flock of c.100 Golden Plover wheeling over the Ivel Valley (which incidentally, was my 14,000th BirdTrack record). All birds outside the reserve boundary were observed from within it.

The Lodge year list moves steadily forward to a respectable 75.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Grip this one back!

House Sparrow is something of a mega at The Lodge. Personally, I have seen only one here in the last five years, so we needed to formulate a plan...The nearest colony is on Stratford Road which runs along the southern perimeter of the reserve, so I thought it would be possible to tick them from the south-western extremity of the reserve.

This lunchtime, I grabbed Bash and we executed the plan. Within a few minutes of our arrival, we both heard a distant bird. It also gave us a chance to explore a part of the reserve that is 'off-limits.' From our vantage point, we had great views of a stretch of water and a reedbed at Warren Villas NR, and it will probably be here that we'll get our Acro's - and possibly Cetti's - in the spring.

Walking back over the new heath, we both stopped in our tracks and before us was first one, then two of one of our key species - Raven.

Team BTO may struggle with that one...we hope!

And with my colleague Tony Payne unblocking Little Owl, our list moves on to 71. 

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Obsessive Birder Calls for BirdTrack to carry Government Health Warning

Obsessive Lodge lister Darren Oakley-Martin this morning publicly admitted to suffering from Birdtrackolism. In a frank and brutally honest interview with the BTO's Nick Moran on their new free-to-view channel Counting Birds, Darren said ''It's gone too far now. I woke up this morning and my first thought was how many birds I could get on my Lodge Complete Species List for the day.''

He continued ''I did the normal stuff: had a cup of coffee and a fag, took a shower - which gave me time to formulate a strategy to nail Little Owl - got dressed and walked the three miles to my workplace at The Lodge.''

''It was only when I arrived and found all the doors locked and the carpark empty that I realised it was Sunday. It's high time the BTO showed some responsibility towards heavy BirdTrack users...they don't even have a crisis line like the Samaritans for heaven's sake, and their staff only work nine to five - the slackers.''

Attempting to steer the conversation in a different direction, Nick asked ''So, did you see anything?'' ''Erm, yes.'' Darren replied. ''Two Woodcock and a Peregrine, which, off the top of my head, means I've recorded them on 2.76% and 3.12% of my visits respectively.''

Friday, 21 January 2011

Renegade RSPB birder declares war on the BTO

A colleague of mine (who shall remain nameless, for fear he'll be sectioned under the Mental Health Act), approached me today and said ''have you seen what the B****** Trust for Ornithology have ticked this week? Hawfinch and bloody Gos! This is war now...and I don't mean that metaphorically.''

He continued, ''right, what we need to do is get a crew up to Thetford and kick their stringy arses. It'll be a piece of p*ss, I mean, there are 700 of us and what, eleven of them? What are they going to do? Call on the BirdGuides reservists? That won't help because we've got BirdLife International watching our backs. We could annex the Nunnery, nick their year list AND all of their ringing data! It'll be a riot! The carrot crunchers won't know what's hit them!''

When he left my desk, I rang Human Resources, then 999.

Golden Bins slums it with the hoi-polloi

Mark 'Golden Bins' Ward, who can't leave the house without jamming in on a BB rare, has had his birding career shattered into tiny pieces when it was revealed that he ticked Feral Pigeon for the RSPB team at The Lodge today.

When contacted by BirdGuides to verify the rumour, Mark replied ''I couldn't help it. I had an eyelash in the corner of my eye, so I held my head back and bathed it with Optrex. It was at that point that the *******s flew over. I feel so ashamed.'' 

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Another one bites the dust...

Well, Crossbills are OK I suppose, but it was a relief this lunchtime finally to nail the Hawfinch that was kicking around the fringes of the Nunnery Lakes reserve just before New Year. No photos unfortunately, as seen (and heard) in flight only, although some Lesser Redpolls were more obliging for a change. Hopefully we'll pin the HF down again soon. Otherwise, Water Rail, Goosander and four Buzzards (none Rough-legged....) were the best of the rest. Back to work now...


A timely cigarette...

A few moments ago, I popped out of the office for a cigarette and was greeted by some 'glipping' from the pines that surround the staff carpark at The Lodge. Funnily, I'd been talking about why Crossbill hadn't made it onto our list with Mr Bashford only this morning. Well, it has now - Crossbill is no.66.

Being in the Brecks, I don't suppose it will take long for the BTO listers to grip that one back...

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Tortoise and the Hare

OK, so it doesn't quite equal the BTO boys and girls' Goshawk (another mammoth tick and potential blocker!) and they may lead by 19 species, but this is a marathon, not a sprint! 

This morning on my way in to work, I walked through Sandy Heath Quarry where some small pools have formed. I thought this may be a reasonable area to pick up Snipe, but instead, a Green Sandpiper was feeding around the edge of the only unfrozen pool. 65 now...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Bitterns: A bit like buses

Neither of these are Bitterns, before anyone says anything. Nor are they particularly remarkable in Nunnery Lakes list terms (both OTL on Day 1) but you can't fault the male Goosander for effort. And whilst failing to get a half-decent shot of it this morning, I had my third Bittern sighting in a week, having been on the lookout for one on the reserve for 18 months! Like I said, a bit like buses...

Anyway enough of all that; the sharp-eyed comment-readers amongst you will be wondering what Chris Gregory added to the list today that could possibly top-trump Darren's Peregrine (which, incidentally, got my day off to a bad start when I opened the BirdTrack Obs Warnings system only to find the record mocking me from the top of the list!). Chris's monster contribution whilst he was working on the reserve this morning was a Goshawk hunting Woodpigeons. That's the first addition since last Wednesday and takes the total to 84, maintaining the BTO's cool 20-species lead ;-)

Slow going

New birds are proving hard to come by at The Lodge at the moment, so I decided to walk into work this morning across a little-watched area of the reserve. Disappointingly, only three new birds added: Song Thrush, Linnet and Canada Goose. My two best birds of the morning have already been chalked up: Woodcock and Peregrine. We move slowly on to 63 species.

Still, if you don't swing the bat, you won't hit the ball...

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Taking the Mickey

Our most popular record so far is a Yellow-necked Mouse, found in the Advosiry office at The Lodge. This is a traditional site, despite our half-hearted attempts to move them to more natural surroundings: one caught last year was taken to the hide, about 250 m away, but it was back in the same trap the next day. Within ten minutes of me putting the news out, twenty people had come to our office to see it (including one Director). No doubt it will be back again.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

250th time lucky!

Today was the 250th date I've been out on the reserve since starting work at the BTO in July 2009 (which I didn't know until I checked my records in BirdTrack, honest). A fitting bird to mark the occasion then? Absolutely: Bittern! Not only does that push us up to 83 for the year (and/or fortnight, depending which way you look at it) but it puts my own Lakes list to 128, exactly level with Darren's Lodge list (and he started all this!).

Birders aren't known for their trusting approach to records from other birders, let alone civilians. I have to confess that when I heard the reports of 2 (or was that 3?!) Bitterns from the local fishermen last month my left eyebrow adopted an acute angle and I muttered something cynical, probably containing the phrase 'female Pheasant'. Note to self: Take seriously fishermen's recent report of "2 egrets that were bigger than the usual one"...

The unsound approach to birding

When a Booted Eagle was claimed over The Lodge, cries of ''where?!!'' rang out from those present. ''Over there!'' announced the finder. Given the precision of such directions, bins and 'scopes were frantically trained in all directions, but some present simply couldn't be bothered and just stood there laughing at this outrageous claim. Or in some cases, just tried to stay warm.

From left to right, Mark Ward, Colin Campbell, André Farrar, Mark Gurney, Gareth Fisher, Darren Oakley-Martin, Steve Blain, Will George, Richard Bashford.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Desperate measures...

The luxury of lakes within the reserve boundary is much envied here at the Lodge, especially with the BTO notching up a bit of a beast with a Mandarin.

So, with our challenge getting off to a slow but perfectly formed start, we were forced to find the gaps in the trees to view to locally famous Derek White's Eggs GP. A fabulous site with an impressive list of watery birds - the only trouble is, it is over a mile away from the Lodge. But without it, we'd be stuffed from the outset. Thanks to ducks etc being quite big, we've scoped Wigeon, Gadwell, Pochard, Teal, Little Grebe and a Little Egret. More lunchtimes will be spent scanning the site as wader passage starts. The smaller the bird though, the greater the challenge. We've got some ideas on that front, so watch this space...
And lets not worry about the standard of photography - it's a Little Egret by the way.

Mandarin OTL

Mandarin Duck On The List as of yesterday morning; note its wary, just-arrived-from-Manchuria posture. It is a good job this competition isn't about photograph quality though! Chiffchaff was today's addition; it looked pretty drab but unfortunately I couldn't turn it into tristis even with the help of Chiff-guru Greg Conway.

That takes the all-important scores on the doors to 82 (bird) species. We're well short of the kind of quality our oppos have achieved... fortunately there are no bonus points for rarities!

The Lodge recording area

Here is the Lodge boundary. However, as it overlooks the Ivel valley we can see a long way from its high bits.

Quality not quantity at The Lodge

The Lodge year started with a bang with a Coues' Arctic Redpoll being found amongst the roaming redpoll flocks on 5th (luckily found by four staff members). Only the third Bedfordshire record after two in 1991 on Wavendon Heath. Waxwings have been frequent visitors too with a peak count of 23 on 4th. Now to fill in those gaps...

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Nunnery recording area

For the record (and because folk have been asking!) here's a map of the Nunnery recording area. Note that it straddles a vice county boundary, which is significant for biological recording. For larger, mobile taxa (that'll be birds and mammals then), the rules are 'on or from' the marked area.


Finally managed to get down to the Nunnery reserve to contribute to the 2011 challenge. Unfortunately, I rather doubt I added any new species (although I'm not sure anyone's written down Hawthorn yet?). Birds included a great flock of about 100 Bramblings plus personal year-ticks of Lesser Redpoll and Marsh Tit. The real highlight, however, was watching at least two Otters on the river. The adult pictured here was seen just briefly, running to the river, but a juvenile was watched for an extended period at close range; it seemed to be enjoying playing with an empty beer can!

Still failing to see the Barn Owl for my personal Nunnery List - must make the effort at dawn or dusk one day...

Monday, 3 January 2011

And they're off!

BTO staff were out in force (well, at least 4 of them, anyway) on New Year's Day, eager to get the Nunnery Lakes 2011 bird list up and running. Mike Toms, Dave Leech, Dawn Balmer and Neil Calbrade all texted me their best offerings, which included Woodcock, Little Egret, Goosander, Little Grebe (infrequent on the reserve, especially when most of the lakes are under ice) and otter.

I returned from 'up north' to my house on the edge of the reserve late last night; no Tawny Owl to greet me so my first Lakes year ticks had to wait until this morning. An extensive tour of duty with Dave added a few things the team hadn't connected with over the weekend: Barn Owl, Nuthatch and the Pink-footed Goose that's been around for a couple of months - the latter a big relief as this would have been a difficult species to catch up with had this individual moved on as we feared it might.

My BirdTrack list for this morning totalled 52 species, exactly the same number Mike and Dave recorded on New Year's Day. The overall total will have to wait until Wednesday when I'm back in the office and can combine everyone's records but we must be up to 60 or thereabouts.