Wednesday, 30 March 2011

One Swallow does not a summer make...

...but what about two Swallows and a Sand Martin?

Much 'working' of the Lakes this lunchtime produced our first hirundines of the year, going some way towards easing the pain of The Lodgers' Considerable RAnge Plover and might-as-well-be-in-the Med it-was-so-far-away Gull, and moving the score to 104.

Challenge for Captain Marvel

How many Little Ringed Plovers?


Captain Marvel

Yesterday evening, Steve phoned me to say that he'd found two decent birds on Derek Whites Egg's Pits, which should be viewable from the plateau at The Lodge. Unfortunately, I had already arrived home, having started work early. Ever intrepid, he came back to The Lodge and soon after, I received a text to say that Little Ringed Plover and Mediterranean Gull were now on our list.

What a star!

How I'd love to be a fly on the wall at The Nunnery this morning.

(Edit - No shots of the LRP, but I did get one of the Med Gulls...Capt. Marvel)

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Spring marches on...

No new birds this lunchtime (although two singing Blackcaps), but a bit of sunshine encouraged a little more life to reveal itself at the Nunnery Lakes. New for the year were Dark-edged Bee-fly Bombylius major, the bumblebees Bombus hortorum, terrestris and pascuorum, a Zebra Spider Salticus scenicus, Pied Shield-bug Sehirus bicolor, plus a few new plants including Common Stork's-bill and Red Currant. Also nice to see the longhorn moths Adela cuprella around the sallow tops that Richard discovered last week and according to the excellent Norfolk Moths website, rather a good record in the Brecks!

Monday, 28 March 2011


Interesting maths there, Darren: 102 (BTO list) - 100 (RSPB list) = 2... but 17 (what BTO have over RSPB) - 12 (vice versa) = 5... something doesn't quite add up ;) So here's the definitive list of blockers The Lodgers have over the White Nuns.

1. Barnacle Goose - up to 2 feral birds regular until late July last year, no sign since. We're hopeful of a reappearance but not guaranteed.

2. Osprey - Lakes or no lakes, this is a tough one; only on 4/8 Nunnery listers' lists on Bubo Listing (click here then type 'Nunnery', set bottom radio button to 'Combined' then click 'Show list'). 25% chance at best.

3. Merlin - A few around in the Brecks each winter so there's an outside chance but not on any Nunnery listers' lists!

[Oystercatcher - already OTL]

4. Ringed Plover
5. Golden Plover
6. Dunlin
7. Green Sandpiper - We're very limited for wader habbo; Green Sand is a good bet in late July/early August but Dunlin and Ringed Plover only on 5/8 lists, whilst Golden Plover is only on 4/8 lists - no records for TL88 during the Atlas period!

8. Woodlark (STA) - A lot harder than you'd think; depends on fly-overs / distant singing birds in next few weeks. Only on 5/8 lists.

9. Sand Martin - Ought to be straightforward but never common here.

10. Waxwing - My integrity was tested not once but 3 times in early January; almost certain I had small groups over early morning but always going away and no calls heard... integrity in tact but glaring hole in the list and we're running out of time!

11. Wheatear - Not annual but on 7/8 lists and with intense observer coverage I'm hopeful!

12. Raven - Still extremely scarce in E Anglia hence not on anyone's lists to date. On a par with Merlin...

13. [Coué's] Arctic Redpoll - No chance; we've done everything we can for this one but the wintering finches are drying up rapidly.

14. Common Crossbill - Ought to be straightforward but never common here.

15. Corn Bunting - Not on any Nunnery listers' lists; another one we can forget about.

So in short, 1, 7, 9 and 11 are decent prospects, with Wheatear the most difficult of that quartet. Of the rest, Osprey and Woodlark are the only ones we can realistically hope for.

Quality and quantity

Well, the BTO boys and girls are certainly getting some quality birds. There must be a scarce bird superhighway running above the Brecks. In fact, I'm starting to get a little concerned. These are the species on the Nunnery list and not on The Lodge list:

1. Bewick's Swan
2. Egyptian Goose
3. Mandarin
4. Pintail
5. Goosander
6. Grey Partridge
7. Bittern 
8. Marsh Harrier
9. Goshawk
10. Water Rail
12.Yellow-legged Gull
13. Barn Owl
14. Long-eared Owl
15. Stonechat
16. Marsh Tit
17. Hawfinch

Of these, we should quite easily grip-back Grey Partridge and Yellow-legged Gull. I would consider our chances 'fair' for Marsh Harrier, Barn Owl and Stonechat and the outlook is rather poor (at best!) for the rest.

Birds on The Lodge list, but not The Nunnery list are not quite as impressive. I wonder how Nick considers the White Nuns' chances with these?

1. Barnacle Goose
2. Osprey
3. Merlin
4. Oystercatcher
5. Ringed Plover
6. Golden Plover
7. Dunlin
8. Green Sandpiper
9. Woodlark (STA)
10. Waxwing
11. Wheatear
12. [Coué's] Arctic Redpoll

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Stonechat's a century

The BTO reserve has been covered like never before in the past week or so as The Lodgers piled on the pressure by picking off a few easy summer migrants, culminating in them sneaking up to the 100 mark ahead of us. Still no Sand Martin or Blackcap here (despite some of us spending 6 hours on the reserve yesterday for a ringing course!) but Dawn Balmer came up trumps with something far less predictable in Nunnery Lakes terms today in the form of a fine male Stonechat. (Bad luck to dedicated nest-recorders Mike Toms and Dave Leech who texted me thinking that this good 'find' during a nest-checking visit to the reserve was theirs, only to get the frustrating news that they'd been beaten to it!).

Edit: Turns out its bad luck to Dawn too... Ian Henderson was first out of the blocks with the Stonechat, finding it on Saturday - its getting pretty tough to find your own birds down the Lakes this year!

Better even than Stonechat was Ian's fly-over Marsh Harrier, also on Saturday, whilst Andy Musgrove sorted out Blackcap for the year in the Nunnery grounds on Monday morning, taking the total to 102.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Nathusius' Pipistrelle - wot a bat!

Stop press news from the Bat Cave:

We produced a couple of sound files the night before last which looked like Nathusius' Pipistrelle, a species only previously recorded from a handful of 10-km's in Norfolk, towards the east of the county.
Sending these to Jon Russ, the UK expert on the species and organiser of the national Nathusius' Pip survey, he has confirmed that we were correct and that these were Nathusius'

I believe the correct phrase in these situations is 'Get in'! Can't wait to see the celebratory Leech moves for this one...

100 up!

Edit: I have just heard that our out-going Director of Conservation, Dr Mark Avery, had a Blackcap at The Lodge yesterday (24th) so....

A Wheatear on the grassland to the south of the reserve at lunchtime today was a delight to behold and brings up the 100. Not quite the calibre of LEO and other recent BTO ticks, but it now feels as if migration is finally under way.

BTO 99 - RSPB 100 (STA)

Also one of these, but they're common now. ;-)

Photograph courtesy of Katie Fuller

Richard the Lionheart

During the batting activities of the night before last, we heard what sounded for all the world like a female LEO. Richard Thewlis(ter), aka 'The Ears', was confident of the ID, whilst I was what I would describe as 'cautiously optimistic'. Last night Richard settled the issue in style, hearing the female Long-eared Owl calling repeatedly (and so clearly that I could hear it over the 'phone)! Unfortunately by the time Red Star Calbrade and I got to the relevant part of the reserve, the bird had quietened down but the important thing is that it is OTL: 99 and counting!

Diurnea fagella

Found yesterday (24th) by Ian Dawson. Diurnea fagella has only a limited flight period, so it was good to get this one on the list.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Batman Begins

BTO batman Stuart Newson called the White Nuns into action yesterday evening for something of which the England cricket team are currently incapable, a brilliant few hours of batting. Fascinating stuff it was too, with Stuart ably leading the troops round the Nunnery grounds and down onto the Nunnery Lakes reserve, before we convened in my front room to analyse the results. Five species were recorded to a reasonable level of confidence: Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Brown Long-eared, Daubenton's and the real jewel in the crown, Barbastelle (which had Dave Leech dancing with joy - a sight worth staying up for in itself!):

Stuart has gone beyond the call of duty by not only galvanising us into action and organising the session, but by already producing a preliminary report on what we found!

Whilst all that was going on, late-working Kate Risely had the presence of mind to grab the moth she saw on exiting the building, which turned out to be a very early Garden Carpet.

Team BTO will not like this...

Not so fast Team BTO!

Walking home last night, I finally met up with our new warden and arch bird-finder Andy Schofield. An illuminating conversation revealed that on Andy's fourth day at The Lodge (Feb 4th), he had heard a Woodlark singing from a patch of rough grassland opposite The Lodge gatehouse called Woodcock Covert. He subsequently heard it on the 7th. 

So I needn't beat myself up about yesterday's silent 'short-tailed larks' anymore.

Woodlark, OTL and all square at BTO 98 - RSPB 98 (subject to acceptance - hereafter STA).

NB: this record is subject to acceptance by the Bedfordshire Bird Club Rarities Committee

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

At last

One of our locally rare breeding birds has returned and two were heard at lunchtime today.

No such worries

It's all well and good seeing or hearing possibles, but there is no doubting the identification of the drake Pintail on one of the Lakes this morning, looking very wary and fully winged to boot! That puts the scores back level (albeit temporarily I'm sure) on 97........

Quality not quantity

Bucketloads of small brown moths are all well and good, but here at the RSPB we prefer a higher quality of Lepidoptera, such as this rather lovely Early Thorn which was in our trap yesterday.
Early Thorn

Seen and not heard, heard and not seen

The first email I opened upon arrival at work this morning was from Lodge librarian Ian Dawson. Ian thought that he had heard a snatch of Firecrest song in the gardens yesterday evening, but had not seen it or heard it subsequently. I spent 30 minutes listening this morning, but to no avail. Now, if Ian thinks that he has heard a Firecrest, there is a very, very good chance that it was a Firecrest.

I remain hopeful we can relocate it if it is still around.

To add insult to injury, on my walk in to work this morning, two short-tailed larks (not the ones you find in Goa) with rounded wings flew north over Sandy Ridge. I know what they were, you know what they were, but any description would prove inadequate.

These two examples highlight the importance of integrity in listing and birding. It would be quite easy for Ian to say that he had definitely heard a Firecrest and it would be even easier for me to pretend I had heard my birds call. Hopefully, our honesty will be rewarded and both species will fall this spring.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Tortricodes alternella

Arguably not the most exciting micro moth of all time but a good one to get 'out of the way' early in the season, before the onslaught of micros later in the year.

Full macro moth list from the first (successful) trapping of the year - no Shoulder-stripe (yet) but a decent haul all the same:

Small Quaker 111
Common Quaker 67
Oak Beauty 4
Pine Beauty 4
Twin-spotted Quaker 3
Early Grey 1

Chiffchaff at last

Andy Schofield does it again with a Chiffchaff heard whilst he was in a meeting at the Lodge yesterday. Quite why he wasn't paying attention to procedings is another matter. 

97 now and it feels good to hold the lead, no matter how short-lived it may prove to be. Having held a 24-tick lead at one stage, it has to be something of a psychological blow to the BTO listers. 

An LRP found by Steve Blain at Derek Whites Egg's Pits would have been tricky from The Lodge on 60x zoom in good light, but the Ivel Valley was also shrouded in mist!

A first for The Lodge?

I am by no means a mother, but a moth in the porch of the Avocet building at The Lodge this morning caught my attention as being something a bit 'different.' After looking at the excellent UK Moths website and consulting a field guide, I thought it might have been a Shoulder-stripe.

I sent an email to a few experts and Mark Gurney soon confirmed that it was indeed a Shoulder-stripe and probably a first for The Lodge, with no records of the species in the Lodge MapMate database. Hopefully a photograph will follow.

Update: having submitted the record to the Moth Recorder for VC30, (I'm good like that), it transpires that there are previous Lodge records: 1990, 1989, 1975 and 1969. By no means common, but I won't now be able to claim my second first for The Lodge

Monday, 21 March 2011

Gone fishing

Not that I'm trying to deflect attention from The Lodgers' recently-established 1-(bird)species lead but just thought I'd register that pike and chub are now OTL for the Nunnery Lakes (and river!). Grip those two back...
Edit: make that three - 3-spined Stickleback also noted by our resident fisherman!

Another ticker

A cracking (not literally, though it was 'tick'-ing and squeaking) Hawfinch slap-bang in the middle of the reserve this lunchtime - my first on as opposed to from - reminded me that it isn't just about the numbers!

That said, a spring migrant of some sort would've seemed a fair return for the efforts of the 4(+) of us who birded the reserve today. Still, when The Lodgers go ahead with Chiffchaff (what are you waiting for?! There were several around the Nunnery Lakes today!), at least we can fall back on Sand Martin.
Edit: Andy Schofield got Chiffchaff from inside The Lodge during a meeting this afternoon! Bad news travels fast ;)

Yesterday's highlights were a Woodcock and a/the Hawfinch for Mike Toms and Dave Leech, another Peregrine sighting, and a tick in the form of Orange Underwing.

Another tick!

Just had a text from Steve, who is watching a Corn Bunting on Biggleswade Common from the top of the old heath. 96...and we're level with the BTO for the first time since the score was 0-0 early on New Years Day!


Our new warden, Andy Schofield, has just had an Osprey heading north over the new heath being mobbed by Buzzards. Ospreys are an annual spring migrant at The Lodge, so this hasn't really come as too much of a surprise. With the lake at The Nunnery, I doubt that the BTO listers will struggle with it either. 95 now...

Another grip-back

Walking in to work this morning, I fully expected my first Lodge Chiffchaff of the year, having had three singing males in Pegnut Wood yesterday. This didn't transpire, but a migrant Great Black-backed Gull takes The Lodge list to 94.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Funny thing, this patch-listing lark!

Earlier today I swapped emails with Darren about some of the species each side was holding over the other. High on the list of easy grip-backs for The Lodgers was Shoveler (I didn't even bother asking Darren about this one as I assumed they'd appear on DWEPs at some point). Somewhere well below the likes of Sand Martin and even Green Sandpiper on our 'likely grip-back' list lay Redshank - as I said to Darren, we don't do well for waders...

...2 hours later I was wandering round the Lakes with Andy, only for a Redshank to fly right in front of us, plumb over the middle of the Lakes! Not only a potentially tricky grip-back nailed, but a Lakes tick for me! Don't recall ever previously celebrating a Redshank with air-punches and cries of 'Get in'!

96 and counting; first to 100, anyone? :D

Lunchtime twitch

Bash, Captain Blain and I had been getting a bit concerned about getting Shoveler on the list this spring. Autumn could prove to be quite tricky, when the leaves would be on the trees and views of most of the surrounding pits obscured.

But at lunchtime today, I took a call from Bash, who was birding Derek Whites Egg's Pits from Biggleswade Common (you used to be able to bird at the site, but it has recently been bought by a shooting syndicate). ''Pair of Shoveler at Derek's!'' he said excitedly. ''What!'' I replied ''I've got lunch in five minutes, so I'll go to the plateau.'' I replied.

I've never twitched Shoveler before and I don't think I'm ever likely to again (unless we do this next year, of course) and certainly not at a mile range in damp, overcast conditions. As I scanned the pit on c.50x zoom, I could just about make out Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Black-headed Gull, but no Shoveler. After about 20 minutes, I was starting to get panicky, but then, there they were, in all their....erm....glory. I've never been happier to get crap views of distant Shoveler.

Shoveler, 93 and OTL

More Redpolls

Video footage is all very well, but to really appreciate your Redpolls you need to see them close up:
2nd calendar year male Common (Mealy) Redpoll on the left, adult male Lesser Redpoll on the right - the bread-and-butter of recent Nunnery ringing sessions.

Mealy Redpoll footage

A Mealy Redpoll and a Lesser Redpoll on a feeder at The Lodge. Video taken by Grahame Madge from the hide. Still plenty of these chaps around the reserve, with many of them now singing.

Monday, 14 March 2011

New additions

Various word of mouth reports from Lodge staff has given us the following new additions:

07 Mar: Curlew and Sand Martin
08 Mar: Reed Bunting
10 Mar: Grey Wagtail

So as we move into the period of frantic and frenetic ticking, the scores are finely poised. The Lodge total moves to 92. 

Friday, 11 March 2011

Raptor rapture

Earlier today I received an email from Darren drawing my attention to the recent gap-narrowing achieved by The Lodgers, who (thought they had) closed the gap to 93 - 91.

Not so fast Darren! Dorian Moss and Neil Calbrade scored a double whammy today; Dorian saw a Peregrine over the Nunnery at lunchtime, with Neil adding a Red Kite a bit later on. Nice to see that days that look like they ought to be good for raptors can actually deliver the goods!

The kite was spotted over the Nunnery Lakes but Neil's quick call back to base had several of us rushing out into the Nunnery car park, from where we were able to 'scope the bird as it drifted high to the west (back to the Lodge?!).


A friend of mine who happens to be a bryologist visited last weekend and was more than willing to be dragged out "mossing" on the Nunnery Lakes reserve.

Lucy Wright, Rob Robinson and Ian Yates were the BTO moss-finding team, with identification assistance from our friends Amy Eycott and Jo Inchbald. We spent most of our time in the brecky bit of the reserve on our hands and knees with bums in the air and noses on the ground; this resulted in a few interesting comments from passers-by, one of whom asked if we had found gold... which indeed we had, in the form of 17 moss species in a 2-hour visit! A great start but I'm sure there are many more to come.

Friday, 4 March 2011


....but no butterflies during 10 mins lunchbreak in the Nunnery grounds. However, five inverts to get me going: Seven-spot Ladybird, Honey Bee, Drone-fly (Eristalis tenax, check those legs!), Great Pond Snail and Great Ramshorn Snail.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

As if by magic...

An enthusiastic Andy Schofield (the new Warden for the Lodge) just called to report a Merlin zipping through the sheep field on Sandy Ridge. No 87.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011