by Kathy James

Archive for December, 2011

What I’ve been getting up to in this funny period between Christmas and New Year…

This year I’ve been very lucky and managed to have time off around Christmas, it’s been absolutely fabulous! I spent Christmas back in Derbyshire and managed to catch up with plenty of friends and family as well as getting out for a spot of birding.

On Tuesday, Ken (top birder blokey and best mate from Holyhead) came to visit me and my family on the Nottingham/Derbyshire border. Ken had visited this area before, in fact I don’t think there are many places in the British Isles Ken hasn’t visited on his quest to see rare birds! This time though, it was for me and my Dad to show him our old dog-walking haunts (with a couple of additions).

I boarded the train in Matlock and met Ken and my Dad an hour later at Long Eaton train station at half past nine. From here we went to Long Eaton gravel pits, mentioned in a previous blog about a previous visit. Here our whistlestop tour got off to a great start, in less than an hour we saw 34 species:

Dunnock
Wren
Robin
Blackbird
Starling
Blue Tit
Fieldfare
Goldfinch
Mallard
Kestrel
Great Tit
Reed Bunting
Green Sandpiper
Goldeneye
Widgeon
Gadwall
Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull
Cormorant
Carrion Crow
Canada Geese
Red-Crested Pochard
Pochard
Tufted Duck
Great Crested Grebe
Coot
Moorhen
Teal
Mute Swan
Lapwing
Redwing
Chaffinch
Grey Heron
Lesser Black-backed Gull

Moving on from this abundant location we saw House Sparrows in a hedgerow as we waited to cross the railway lines away from the pits on our way to the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trusts Attenborough Nature Reserve. Attenborough has changed dramatically since my childhood. As a good friend commented last night at her birthday dinner, there are fewer places to run around and play! This is no bad thing however, because this reserve has ben sculpted into a haven for wildfowl and is continually being improved with the addition of scrapes and the maintainance of reed beds. So the particular hidey-hole Emily was thinking of is now a fabulous lake that is home to many birds including Bittern.

Another dramatic change at Attenborough is the addition of the visitor centre and I have to applaud their efforts. They have a created an eco-friendly, aesthetically pleasing centre that attracts visitors for it’s cafe alone and that for me is really exciting because what better way to introduce families to nature than to do so inadvertantly while they sip their hot chocolates?!

We had little time for the cafe on this occasion though as we took a quick meander around catching up with tens of species of birds and adding the following to our day list:

Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Long-tailed Tit
Feral Pigeon
Goosander
Common Gull
Shoveler
Greylag Geese
Buzzard
Little Grebe
Pheasant

Next it was time for lunch (anyone that knows me knows I am ruled by my tummy) and we headed over to the cafe at Carsington Water – an RSPB reserve. A visitor to South Stack in summer had recommended me this cafe so I thought we should check it out. It was incredibly busy when we got there, so all credit to the the staff there for their great service! After a yummy mushroom soup for me and sausage cobs for my Dad and Ken we had a quick perambulation around ‘Stone’s Island’, a peninsular jutting out into the reservoir just in front of the visitor centre. From here we added three more birds to our list:

Pied Wagtail
Meadow Pipit
Dunlin

With the daylight fading there was one further place I wanted to take Ken…on a hunt for Hawfinch. The place that everyone recommends is Cromford, home of the industrial revolution. This particular part of Cromford is a small collection of old mill buildings flanked by a canal and the River Derwent – very picturesque. We wandered around in the failing light and managed to pick up Jackdaws, a Mistlethrush atop a tall tree, and a Raven overhead, but we were out-foxed by the glorious Hawfinch. Still it’s one I can claim on my year list that the proliofic Ken hasn’t got :-p Before we left we peered over the bridge onto the Derwent and had a lovely encounter with a Little Grebe (or Dab Chick as my Dad calls them) catching and eating fish.

It was a fantastic day. The weather had been spectacular, we’d seen loads of birds (52) whilst hardly trying and we all got to spend the day enjoying each others company…say ahhhhhhh!

I wanted to tell you about it because we spent about six-hours going round those various places, including travelling, eating ice-creams at Attenborough and stopping for lunch and it was thoroughly enjoyble from start to finish. If you want to do the same then take part in the naturebites birdrace at the start of Feb… It’s a six hour event where you basically get to go around with your friends (or make new friends), see lots of birds and have fun. I think our casual day birding and seeing 52 species shows just how easy it can be. If you haven’t get read about the birdrace please look at the post entitled “I propose a birdrace!”.

That wasn’t the end of my birding fun this week. The follwing morning Ken and I, lead by my sister Caroline, and my almost-one-year nephew Jack, headed out to a quarry on Bealey Moor, near Matlock to look for a bird we had heard was in the area. It was bitterly cold up on the moor and Jack had the best spot snuggled up in his wooly hat against his mummy. We headed for a about 20 meters into the quarry path and lo and behold what should we see sat on top of a shrub another ten metres in front of us but a Great Grey Shrike!! Amazing! It was a particularly nice feeling that we all saw it at once and lifted our binoculars in unison. We headed back towards the road to a better view point so we could get more light on the bird – stunning! Although I hadn’t had to work for this bird (Ken dipped on thirteen of these before finally seeing one), it’s reputation preceeded it so it felt like being starstruck, like one of your idols was just sat across the way. Brilliant.

It wasn’t long before we were back in the car because we’d all gone out glove-less and our fingers were frozen. We saw a pine forest down the road to the right and started talking about Crossbills. Caroline told me she had seen a solitary Crossbill before and my response was to tell her that it’d be great if she could see both the males and the females together as they are such fantastic greens and reds, almost tropcial in appearance. We pulled up in front of the woods and once more our luck was in, a twenty strong flock of multicoloured Crossbills danced in the sky in front of us – we were giggling with excitment. After their little display they disappeared above the trees. What a magical morning?!!!

All in all I’ve had a wonderful Christmas break – thank you to all those I shared it with!

I would like to end this entry with recognition of the fact that the last battery hen was freed yesterday – a moment I’ve been anticipating since my school days. There is still more to be done to improve animal welfare but that is a fantastic leap in the right direction and should be celebrated. Whoop!

Enjoy your new year celebrations and remember that it’s the perfect time to start recording what you see out and about – a year list.

Best of luck to all you avid birders who will no doubt be hectically dashing around on Sunday trying to get your year off to a cracking start!

See you next year! X


Twas the night before Christmas…

Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!


A very quick trip to the midlands!

I am writing this on a single carriage train somewhere between Derby and Crewe. This weekend I travelled back to the East Midlands to celebrate my brother’s 30th birthday in his lovely new house. Needless to say that his lovely new house has now has a much dirtier floor, but other than that I think it escaped any party damage!

It was well into the afternoon before I could emerge from my den. My Dad picked me up to take me down to the local gravel pits in Long Eaton so we could try out his newly purchased scope.

The gravel pits have changed so much since I used to walk my dog there when I was younger. The hedgerows have matured and the pits themselves have multiplied and all turned into lakes teeming with bird life. The two slices of toast I’d managed to get down me moments before did nothing to insulate me – it was bloomin freezin! Flipping back the mitten part of my gloves to fiddle with the scope was dreadful, especially as I was still feeling a bit worse for wear!

Although cold, it was a beautiful afternoon (I hear the morning wasn’t too bad either!) and we saw loads of lovely birdies. There were tonnes of Fieldfare coating the bushes and the tracks and plenty of birds on the water which, aided by Dad’s new scope, we were able to identify as Tufted duck, Coots, Mallard, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Black-headed Gulls, Pochards and Gadwall. Above, in the skies we saw Cormorants, a Grey Heron, Woodpigeons and Goldfinch. While the trees contained Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Rook and Jackdaw. My Dad tells me there was an Egyptian Geese nest there earlier in the year. I had previously caught up with these at the adjoining Attenborough Nature Reserve run by the Nottingham Wildlife Trust in Feb.

So I had a very enjoyable bit of bonding time with my Dad and we worked out his new scope so hopefully he’ll be getting out and about and using it!

I’ve had a great response about the birdrace in the first week of Feb (if you don’t know about it please read the post entitled “I propose a Birdrace”). If you are thinking of taking part put a date in your diary and don’t forget to let me know when and where you’re doing it and who is in your team. I am hoping that local teams will be able to meet up on Sunday 5th in a central location to find out how everyone got on and perhaps for a spot of food!

Hope you’re not too cold wherever you are!

Kathy x


Thought you might be interested to read this x

Saving the Spoon-billed sandpiper

Please join us and our Vice-President Kate Humble for a very special event on Monday 19 December, which will include the first chance to glimpse the spoon-billed sandpipers in the UK.

Kate will unveil a live CCTV link up with the specially-constructed Slimbridge aviary, which is now the focus of the spoon-billed sandpiper breeding programme.

Readers of this blog will be aware that CCTV has been crucial in keeping a watchful eye on the birds brought to the UK. Now it will give visitors to Slimbridge a chance to see them for themselves.

Kate will also host an audience with Nigel Jarrett, Martin McGill and Roland Digby, talking about the expedition to Russia and the continuing challenges of trying to secure a future for the spoon-billed sandpiper.

Kate and Martin will also be signing copies of their book Watching Waterbirds – a perfect Christmas gift for budding conservationists!

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Why are Robins Christmassy?

True to form the weather has been a mixed bag recently. From Gale strength winds battering your car as you traverse the Menai straits to stunning sunshine in Spring-like Moelfre. There’s been torrential downpours too as well as snow on the aptly named Snowdon mountain range. A glance out the window now though is met with cornflower blue skies and white fluffy clouds. There is a hint of something a little more ominous though as the clouds are travelling at speed and the television aerials are shaking.

On Sunday morning I was out, not in the aforementioned torrential downpours or dramatic winds, but in a dreary grey drizzle that was to be found at Bangor harbour. I had gone along to watch ‘cannon netting’. The professional bird ringers were there to entrap wading birds in order to ring them, a process integral to species monitoring. After a hefty hoard of 400 Dunlin the previous day I think we were all out of luck. The logistics of setting up such a net means that you have to get the birds in the right place and that day there weren’t any birds playing ball. There was just a few dozen bird enthusiasts getting wet in a carpark! Nevertheless, it was great to meet the crew. There were local ringers and trainees as well as some folk from the BTO (that’s the British Trust for Ornithology if you weren’t sure) and everyone was very informative. I was especially happy to hear about all the measures put into place to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the birds. The prospect of firing a net over the birds can seem rather daunting in that respect, but all my doubts were squashed by the various rules and regulations surrounding the process that enables these bird lovers to find out more about the thing whch they devote so much of their lives too.

I was pleased to hear Alan Titchmarsh extolling the virtues of connectivity with nature recently on BBC Breakfast. He may have been plugging his new book but nevertheless our connection with nature is something very close to my heart which I am keen to promote. Go Alan! Two recent visits I’ve made have had a similar thread running through, that of getting our young people involved with nature in their local area. One was a scheme at Treborth botantical gardens, just outside Bangor where local school children have been involved with creating a wonderous wildlife garden equipt with multi-level dipping pond, bug hotel, sensory butterfly patch and even beehives!

Two of the ladies who have enabled the community involvement project at Treborth

The other community involvement project I visited is at the Pili Palas near Menai Bridge. Here, local College lecturer Geraint leads a team of lads who volunteer their time to create a wildlife-rich outdoor area at the acclaimed tourist attraction. Head-keeper Ed showed me around the site recently and showed me the cracking start the group had made in turning the overgrown, unusable area into a specially planned wildlife area which could also be used as an educational facility. Top marks guys! I hope to catch up with group soon and then I can let you know more.

So for now I’d like to leave you with a clip of my dear friend Rob talking about Robins. It’s from a Nottingham university e-advent calendar…it’s festive! http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/adventcalendar/2011/12/02/2-december-robin-red-breast/ red-breast/

Kathy x x x


I propose a birdrace! (Please sing these words along to The Kaiserchiefs “I predict a riot!”)

The wildlife highlight of this week for me has to be an encounter with a Water Rail. I thought my first meeting with these bird might be a winters day down at Valley Wetlands RSPB reserve, however it turned out that I would first meet this gorgeous bird down on the Isles of Scilly. I visited Scilly in October, visiting my very good friend Hilary that I met that there last year as a volunteer for the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. Whilst enjoying the beautiful scenery, boat trips and the Scilly Disco (legendary!), I also made time for a spot of twitching.

Scilly is the home of the ‘Twitcher’. With it’s extreme South-Westlerly position it acts as a sink for all manner of lost birds and geographically it’s ideal to search, especially with so many dedicated birders to cover the islands.

Just to differentiate, ‘Twitchers’ are those that pursue species of bird in order to compile a list: a year list, a British List, a foreign list or perhaps a life list. There are also ‘birders’ who watch the behaviours and habits of birds from their back garden to the mountain tops. As with all things this is spectral, one can both enjoy the behaviours of birds and also compile a species list – obviously! I just wanted to stress the point that some people are much more towards the ‘Twitching’ end of the spectrum and that a lot of these people end up on Scilly in October.

Whilst I was on St Mary’s in October there was a Northern Waterthrush, an American species, that was a must see. Having spent an afternoon snorkelling around Toll Island, I was inappropriately dressed in flip-flops as I went in search of this beautiful speckly bird. The bird was located behind the dump and I had to trudge through black slude and got flithy! That time, there was no bird to be seen. Undeterred, I returned at sunrise the following morning with birder friend Paul Long (he took me on my very first twitch!) and whilst we “dipped” on the Waterthrush I saw my first Water Rail – I loved it. It was a strange experience because the huge crowd gathered there were disappointed by it’s appearance because they were ‘twitching’ and wanted to see their new species. Well for me, the Water Rail was just that – I went back to cook breakfast with a smile on my face.

The Water Rail I saw this week was just the second I’d seen and an Anglesey first for me. This sighting was particularly exciting because it just ran across the road in front of us – a usually very secretive bird giving us a spectacular view. Ken was in fact driving and had he not been there I might not of known what it was. Seeing it out of context and with the naked eye (as opposed to binoculars) I couldn’t work it out. It was so tiny and so slim, it looked like a shrunken, ironed version of the bird I’d seen on Scilly. It was thoroughly gorgeous!

So, in order to explain the title of this blog – Naturebites proposes a six hour birdrace to see as many different species of birds as you can in your chosen county! If you are a hardcore twitcher or just want to get out and see birds then this is for you. We all have various commitments so all I’m asking is that you pick a day from 1st-7th of February. This is a little way off but I wanted you have chance to get it in your diaries. Please do not be deterred if you are a novice in birding terms, it is precisely you that I want on board. If you cannot hook up with an experienced birder for the event then email me at naturebites.wordpress@gmail.com telling me where you are and I’ll see if I can add you to a team. Please also register any teams to the birdrace by email, telling me who’s in your team, when you propose to do it and where. Please click on and read Some (Simple) Rules for the birdrace and I’ve also provided a species tick-list for you to print off to use on the day (isn’t handwritten just so much nicer!?). The list will not be comprehensive and will vary depending on where you undertake the challenge so feel free to add other species to the bottom. And of course, I want to know how you do! So send me your results after the event and we can establish a winning county!

Hope you can join us!

Kathy x