The Beauty of Moths

As you know, Birds are my area of expertise, but I do have a love of the natural world as a whole, with each group of living things catching my eye or ear, or sometimes nose in a particular way.

I purchased a Skinner type moth trap back in 2007, but have only recently rekindled my interest again, largely down to the lockdown situation leading to more time to examine the wildlife on my doorstep more closely.

Some productive nights in my Hollywood (Worcestershire) garden have produced some real gems, making the early starts worth while, maybe every day should start with an Elephant Hawk Moth…

Elephant Hawk

Yes there really are Pink insects. The colour of the Elephant Hawk Moth matches that of its larval food plant, Rosebay Willow-herb.

Moths are split into two main groups, Macro Moths and Micro Moths and as the names suggest, the former are generally larger. The truth is though that the Macro moth group covers particular families of moths, which happen to be larger, whereas the Micro’s are the earlier orders of moth families, so there is some cross over in sizes.

Because of their size, the ‘Macros’ tend to be easier to identify and with close to 900 species in the UK, there is plenty to occupy the moth enthusiast. I use the ‘Field Guide to the Moths of Britain & Ireland’ to help with identification, where life-size illustrations by the king of insect art himself Richard Lewington, make the sometimes daunting task of moth ID so much easier.

Lesser Common Rustic

Lesser Common Rustic, one of many similar moths, but being able to offer a live specimen against an accurate scale illustration doesn’t half help.

Obviously what comes to the light will depend on the plants you have in the locality, as each moths caterpillars will be reliant on a particular food plant, with the likes of Hawthorn, Bramble and Oak supporting a wide variety of species for example. If you plant for butterflies and bees in your garden, you are likely supporting moths during the night as well. Honeysuckle and Jasmine are more fragrant from dusk to dawn to attract moths, which are the main pollinator of these plants.

Moth caterpillars are often persecuted by gardeners, but everything has its place and if you have mint in the garden, you may have come across the fabulous purple and gold Mint Moth, or perhaps the pearlescent Box Tree Moth may visit your topiary bushes, both surely worth loosing a few leaves for. After all if a species is to survive it’s not going to fully destroy its larval food plant, otherwise there would be non for future generations. These very same caterpillars might grow into the moths that help pollinate other favourite flowers in your garden, so live and let live is the way forward.

Box Tree Moth

Box Tree Moth, photographed with flash to best show off those pearlescent wings.

The winter months are obviously not good for moths and although a few species do still take to the wing at this time, moth trapping is most producing on a calm, slightly overcast late Spring through to Autumn night. Like butterflies, moths have specific flight seasons, these will coincide with the growth of the particular larval food plants for that species.

Attracting the moths to light to capture them may seem cruel to some, but they settle down into shaded areas within the trap overnight and once identified the following morning, are set free into the same locality and ideally into thick cover so the birds don’t find them. Logging the sightings onto the ‘National Moth Recording Scheme‘ website provides a national picture, much like the British Breeding Bird Surveys do. This of course shows the health of the various populations and movement of certain species, which all adds weight towards conservation and protection of their habitats.

Peppered

The Peppered Moth larva feed on a variety of plants and trees, giving them a long flight season between May and August.

Coronet

The Coronet has more specific food plants, so will only be found in June & July as an adult moth.

Going mobile with your moth trap will likely find you new moths and you can power the trap by generator to reach more remote locations if you wish. I recently set up at a local house, which has extensive gardens and adjacent wild meadows.

Broadacre

5am at Broadacre House, I wonder whats in the trap?

I think it was Forest Gump who said “Life is like a box of Moths, you never know what you’re gunna get” or something like that anyway, so it’s all very exciting approaching the trap, turning the light off and peering inside.

Trap

What do we have in here?

There is normally something that immediately catches your eye, a particularly bright or large moth, or an overwhelming number of a particular species. On this occasion there were lots of Footman Moths and Thorns.

Above the very similar Common Footman (left) and Scarce Footman. Both have the same colouration and size of around 14-17mm in length, but they fold their wings differently so making the Scarce Footman appear slimmer.

Not only do you have different species that are similar, you also have huge diversity within the same species, even within the same locality. The four moths together in the picture below are all examples of Dun-bar.

Dun-bar

Variations of Dun-bar Moth

However there are some stand out beauties that are unlikely to be mistaken for any of the other moths, like the striking Black Arches below, which even has a pink abdomen and antenna like a gremlins ears.

It was nice to have three species from the ‘Prominent’ family at Broadacre as well, as they are a striking group of moths and a very distinctive shape at rest to help them blend into their background.

Getting your own kit together to do some moth trapping is not cheap, with a Skinner type trap coming in at around £200, but you could have a go at making your own. For an idea of what you might need, Anglain Lepidopterist Supplies is a good a place to look as any.

If you’re not ready to take the plunge, why not attend a moth event. I’ll be running one at Broadacre House, near Solihull on August 28th which will be open to just five people to keep things manageable in these awkward times. This will give people a chance to learn a little about moth identification first hand and an excellent opportunity for some photography of hard to find species. You’ll find details on my websites ‘Events Page‘.

Or if you’d like to find out what moths are visiting your garden without investing in a trap, why not contact me about setting my trap up in your garden overnight and I’ll come back the following morning and we can ID your moths together.

I hope you’ve found the above article interesting and I’ll round it up with an image of one of my favourites, the aptly named Peach Blossom.

Peach Blossom

Peach Blossom Moth on Silver Birch

My auto-correct Bird name Frustrations!

As a man in his early 50’s, many things make me grumpy or irritate me, like why children standing a few feet apart shout to each other and why do they do it outside my house when I’m trying to work, rather than in front of their own house. Life is full of mysteries I guess…

Spell check correcting my writing is a blessing quite often, especially as a dyslexic I do make a lot of errors and putting anything down in text format always takes me a lot of time, so any help is appreciated.

As a birdwatching guide, I’m always making lists of the bird names we see on tour, often as we see them using the ‘Notes’ app on my i-phone, that way I can provide an accurate record for everyone post holiday.

However, some higher power believes the bird names I am logging to either be a product of my dyslexia, or a misspelling of perhaps something a non-birdwatcher might be making a list of. Let me give you some examples.

One of my favourites, is a relatively European bird, so I tend to log it quite often, but sadly my phone still thinks it knows best. Mistle Thrush is sometimes “corrected” to ‘Mistake Thrush’, how ironic is that! On occasion it changes it to ‘Missile Thrush’, an interesting concept if ever I heard one…

Mistle

Mistle Thrush… aka Mistake Thrush or Missile Thrush

Another classic covers a whole group of birds, the Harriers, which “corrects” to a ladies name. I’m lucky enough to see several species in the UK and further afield so often note Marsh Harriet, Hen Harriet and if I’m lucky Montagu’s Harriet. Another raptor I see occasionally is the Hobby, or as spellcheck prefers ‘Bobby’. Birds such as the Hobby with singular names can cause problems, for example the gorgeous Garganey corrects to ‘Gargantuas’ and Eider to ‘Rider’.

Below are a few other examples I’ve had issues with that come to mind;

  • Sitting Cisticola – Zitting Cisticola
  • House Martini – House Martin
  • Meadow Pipette – Meadow Pipit
  • Sulphuric-crested Cockatoo – Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
  • Bearded Barnet – Bearded Barbet
  • Collared Trojan – Collared Trogan
  • Masked Tights – Masked Tityra
  • Philadelphia Video – Philadelphia Vireo
House martin

Anyone fancy a House Martini?

So should you join me on a birdwatching holiday, day trip or dawn chorus walk and receive a list of birds afterwards with an error on it, don’t blame me, blame whoever writes the software programmes for not knowing their birds!

The Results from the Worldwide Garden Birdwatch, May 9th, 2020.

If you missed the story of how the day unfolded, you’ll find that in the blog below, but this piece is about the people who took part and the amazing range of birds we saw between us on the day from around the world.

Approximately 300 of you took part, representing 150 gardens, across 23 countries, spanning Europe, North America, Central America, South America, Asia, Australia, Africa and the Caribbean.

It joined together beginner birdwatchers and those with years of experience, people living in suburbia with a view from their apartment to people who overlooked lush rain forest, or had estuary views. This diverse mix of people, countries and habitats made for one of the most interesting days of my life and for sure, one incredible bird list.

Map showing the UK coverage and gardens from the rest of the world.

UK COLLAGE Results

Some wonderful sightings were shared on the day, sadly far too many to mention in this blog but here are some examples.

Tim and Penny Somerville had surprise visitors arrive in their Cambridgeshire garden, actually in their pond to be precise. A pair of Mandarin ducks dropped in long enough for them to get a photograph and the only record of this species anywhere in the world on the day. They had thought they’d peaked too early with a visit from a Ring Ouzel in early April as well, obviously I’ve asked for first refusal if they decide to move house!

Mandarin Ducks

Mandarin Male in the pond, female on the bank above

Our best tally of birds for the UK came from Bernie Beck, who’s garden overlooks the tidal area between the mainland and the Gower Peninsular in South Wales, helping Bernie to clock up an impressive 54 species on the day.

Bernies list

Bernie Becks impressive day list

Single records of UK species

Not far behind Bernie was Paul Rogers who managed 50 from his Anglesey garden and in fact had our only records of Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Northern Wheatear and Black-tailed Godwit.

Others who recorded unique sightings for the UK total were Geoff Dobbs (Whinchat), Karen & Richard Cowley (Lesser Redpoll), John Poyner (Dipper), Lynn Demaine (Slavonian Grebe), Wies Dykstra (Marsh Harrier), Izzy Fry (Marsh Tit), John MacFarlane (Pied Flycatcher), Kris Webb (Shag, Kittiwake & Guillemot) and Duncan MacDonald (Pink-footed Geese & Parrot Crossbill). Some very impressive birds there folks.

Marsh tit in woods

Izzy Frys photo of a Marsh Tit from Saturday

Impressive numbers from the rest of the world

Many of the submissions we had from abroad were provided by the excellent guides we partner with for our overseas wildlife watching holidays, so its no wonder they came up with the goods, even though they were confined to their own properties for the day.

Katinka & Will clocked up an impressive 40 in Honduras, Dhammi in Sri Lanka topped that with 60, including a few endemic species like Yellow-fronted Barbet.

YFB

Yellow-fronted Barbet, only found in Sri Lanka

Elsie put in three sessions on the day from her garden in Brazil to record an incredible 66 species, while Frank in SW Portugal managed 47 including local specialities like Iberian (Green) Woodpecker and Iberian Magpie.

JJ’s compound in The Gambia, much like my garden here in Worcestershire, has few avian visitors, so he was reliant on flyovers and identifying birds by call, so I was very happy with his list total of 47 species. Istvan in Hungary weighed in with 33 species, including Whiskered Tern, nice!

We had Both Jordi in the Pyrenees and Tosh near Malaga covering Spain from either end, who clocked up 51 species between them, including an impressive range of raptors. Lammergeier, Black, Egyptian & Griffon Vultures, Booted, Short-toed & Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcon, Common & Honey Buzzards, Common Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, not to mention Little and European Scops Owls. Wow!

We had two observers in Finland based in Helsinki, so species were limited, but I had to share this shot from Mervi Hartikka’s apparent of Barnacle Geese, which had stopped to feed during their migration north on the local park.

Mervi Hartikka

Barnacle Geese in Helsinki

Tobago managed 38 species courtesy of Desmond, our Cuffie River based guide and we had two representatives for Trinidad who racked up a very impressive 86 species. We were pretty lucky to have Martin Kenefick on board in Trinidad, co-author of the field guide for T&T, who’s back garden is the Asa Wright Nature Centre, so it was no surprise when he posted quite a list. Birds like Scaled Pigeon, Bearded Bellbird and Oilbird were unlikely to crop up anywhere else.

Scaled

One of my pictures of Scaled Pigeon from Trinidad a year or two back

We had single representatives in various countries, starting with Cyprus, where Jane Stylianou managed 10 species, Geoff Laight in Serbia got some nice birds among his 26, Tracey Jennings totalled 26 from her Singapore garden and a very nice sum of 38 species from Ysbrand Brouwers in Holland. Fil Hide identified a nice 42 species from Zambia and it was 12 from our French garden where Pam Shaheen and Philip King were keeping watch.

Australia submitted 26 species across four gardens, in Italy three plots produced 33 and although we had just 4 gardens taking part across the USA, they were well spread out. From Michael Jewel in Texas, Judy Fey in Washington State and both Joyce Bond and Carol Anderson covering gardens in California, they managed 53 species between them.

The full list of the species that were recorded worldwide is below in alphabetical order and begins with Acorn Woodpecker, one of 21 Woodpecker species sighted on the day across 14 participating countries.

To sum up the diversity of the day, two birds that are never likely to meet appear next to each other on the alphabetical list, Kookaburra and Lammergeier. That certainly brought a smile to my face as I collated the sightings from you all.

Full Species list from May 9th, 2020

Bird list pg1

Bird list pg2

Bird list pg3

Bird list pg4

 

If anyone would like a copy of the bird list, or the map of participants as a memory of what you took part in on the day, don’t hesitate to drop me an email and I’ll forward that to you.

The total raised for the RSPB around May 9th is just short of £1,700, it would be great to get this to £2,000, so please share this blog, or pass on the Just Giving link and let’s see what we can achieve.

I’d like to wrap this up by saying a huge thank you to everyone who took part. Not just by submitting sightings and/or donating to the amazing amount of money raised so far, but for also sharing my posts and helping to create a real buzz on the day. The event certainly did what I intended it to do and gave us all something positive and interesting to focus on for the day.

Below is a list of everyone who submitted the sightings that took us to that amazing total of 577 species of birds seen in 24hrs on May 9th, 2020. Wow!

Many thanks to all of you, mentioned below

The people

 

The story of May 9th 2020, Worldwide Garden Birdwatch day.

When I came up with the idea in mid April, I never dreamed May 9th would be such a successful day. My initial thoughts were to bring together birdwatchers across the world for a days birdwatching from their gardens, as that is pretty much the limitations of our birdwatching under the current circumstances.

It certainly served as a good distraction for 24hrs from what’s going on in the world and judging by the fabulous interaction on the day between people posting sightings on Facebook, the Whats app messages I received and feedback afterwards, it clearly gave many of us a much needed lift.

The opportunity to set up the Just Giving page for the RSPB was an obvious thing for me to do, as a previous employee and a volunteer for close on 20 years in various capacities, but I never expected the overwhelming generosity of your donations.

At the time of writing, we are just short of £1,700 and getting close to the £2,000 target. Thank you so much for your donations. We will leave the Just Giving Page open for another week or so.

I’ll be doing an additional blog with all the stats from the day, but to be getting on with…

A summary of May 9th 2020;

  • 02:00am BST – I got the first news of the day from Dhammi, our guide in Sri Lanka. It was 06:30am over there and he was starting to put a good list of birds together.
Kids

Dhammi using the opportunity to involve the local boys and girls

  • 03:00am – Time for me to get up and be ready for the dawn chorus, although it seems one of the local Robins beat me to it, first bird of the day! The street is quiet now after yesterday afternoons VE Day celebrations, just the bunting remaining
  • 03:40 – Get in, male Tawny Owl calling. Great news as this means I don’t have to try for one at the other end of the day, what a relief
  • 03:42 – A fox barking is quickly followed by a chattering magpie, maybe it was disturbed by the fox
  • 04:09 – The familiar calls of the local pair of Canada Geese.
  • 04:18 – The first Blackbird starts to sing atop a telegraph pole at the end of the road, first visible bird of the day
  • 04:20 – Song Thrush joins the chorus
  • 04:29 – “I don’t want to go”, the Wood Pigeons well known song
  • 04:31 – A Wren belts out its oversized song
  • 04:38 – Jackdaws on mass exit their nearby roost, probably upwards of 100 birds
  • 04:41 – It’s distant, but unmistakably a Cuckoo and only my second from the house in 15 years. Thats double figures and it’s not even light yet
  • 04:46 – Great Tit calling, followed by a Pheasant a minute later
  • 04:50 – A Carrion Crow flies through
  • 05:01 – The first Goldfinches of the day jingle overhead
  • 05:10 – Greenfinch makes its wheezing call
  • 05:11 – They’re coming thick and fast now, with Coal Tit, Dunnock and Blue Tit in quick succession, barely audible above the dozen or so Blackbirds singing now
  • 05:15 – Collard dove begins to call and with the light increasing the odd Starling flies through and a couple of Rooks
  • 05:20 – 28 degrees now in Sri Lanka, not so hot here yet, but looking like it will be a nice day.
0526

05:25am – Hollywood sunrise… thats the one in Worcestershire, England, not the other one.

  • 05:25 – I can now hear the local House Sparrows cheeping
  • 05:35 – Calum Dickinson reports the first UK raptor of the day, Red Kite from his garden in Welwyn Garden City and shortly afterwards Frank McClintock in Portugal logs some mouth watering species
  • 05:53 – One of my local Lesser Black-backed Gulls drifts over, closely followed by a Stock Dove
  • 06:00 – The early risers in the UK are starting to send me their observations, perhaps others over did the VE celebrations the day before… Kathy O’Neill
  • 06:17 – A flight of Mallards reminiscent of Hilda Ogdans wall pass by, taking my total for the day to 25 species
  • 06:40 – News in of some good sightings from Geoff Laight in Serbia, including his first Wood Warbler
Geoffs list

Geoff Laight, pad and pencil at the ready

  • 07:01 – First UK wader of the day is a Curlew, among the first update from Holly Page in Waddington, Lancashire
  • 07:02 – I’m staying indoors a little while longer to see what birds visit the garden feeders and a good job I did. One of the local Great-spotted Woodpeckers takes some peanuts before posing nicely on the bird bath.
GSW

07:02 – Male Great-spotted Woodpecker shows up, that’s species 26 for the day for me

  • 08.01 – I’ve had to wait a whole hour for my next species, two Swifts bomb through against the blue sky.
  • 09:00 – Incredible £885 raised now for the RSPB, how high will this go?
  • 09:51 – My first raptor of the day, a pair of Common Buzzards drift over the garden, time to get the chair out me thinks…
  • 11:02 – From his compound in The Gambia our guide JJ has now clocked up 38 species for the day, with an evening session still to come.
The chair

10:30am – Time to get the chair out and study the sky

  • 11:20 – Scanning the sky pays off with a Sparrowhawk picked up gaining altitude above the garden.
  • 11:36 – Goodness where did that come from, its pretty high but that’s unmistakably a Cormorant and a first for me from the house. 30 species now for the day, 31 if I decide to include Feral Pigeon on my list… Stuart Griffiths is egging me on!
  • Midday UK time and we’re close to £1000 raised, so far I’m aware of 62 UK species recorded and 220 worldwide
  • 12:31 – Katinka & Will join us from Honduras in Central America, having already recorded some nice species from the dawn chorus there
  • 12:58 – A single House Martin overhead for me, certainly not a regular sighting
  • 13:36 – Dhammi wraps up the day with Collared Scops owl, a nice round 60 species from him in Sri Lanka including a few endemics.
Carol Haddows view

13:40 – Carol Haddows’ view over the River Trent, hoping for a Common Tern

  • 13:48 – Greg Curno posts a lovely bit of film of his House Sparrows enjoying the newly built pond. Eyes back on the sky Greg.
  • 14:02 – Peregrine, is it? I reach for my camera and loose sight of it, just didn’t get on it long enough with the bins to be sure, thats the one that got away today!
  • 14:05 – News from our friends in Scotland, they’re not having a great day of it weather wise, heavy rain is making life difficult to spot the birds. However Duncan MacDonald scopes what is probably the UK bird of the day, Parrot Crossbill
  • 14:10 – We’ve done it, £1068 raised now for RSPB and its not showing any signs of stopping yet.
  • 14:11 – Three large gulls overhead, yes Herring Gull, I’m up to 33 species now.
Megan in Birding Plumage

14:15 – Megan in full “Birding Plumage”, up to 28 species from Loughborough

  • 14:20 – Paolo Zucca one of our Italian contingent adds a singing Chiffchaff to his tally
  • 14:31 – News from Jordi in the Spanish Pyrenees of “the usual” 23 Lammergeiers, 10 Black Vulture, 3 Egyptian Vulture and 350 Griffon Vultures! Not to mention Golden, Booted and Short-toed Eagles! No wonder thats an annual trip for us.
  • 14:50 – Trying to work out roughly how many species we’ve seen nationally and internationally, but I think I’ll have to wait until the results are in from everyone, but looking like we’ll have some impressive numbers.
  • 15:39 – Finally a Swallow takes me up to 34
  • 16:00 – At last Suzanne Pricketts’ Coal Tit shows up!
  • 16:20 – I hear a Pied Wagtail, no make that 3, one over and two perch up on next doors roof to watch the intruder off their territory.
  • 17:00 – Elsie in Brazil contacts me to say she’s having a great day and has seen her 201st garden species, Eastern Slaty Thrush, thats one heck of a garden elsie and thats just in two and a half years!
Ash

“Come on, come on, just one more bird”…

  • 19:23 – “I cant imagine I’ll be getting any more now” I said, just as a Mistle Thrush flies calling low over the garden. 36 species, I’ve got to be happy with that in suburban Worcestershire.
  • 20:00 – I’ll give it a little longer, but our friends in the Americas still have some hours of daylight left.
  • 20:50 – The local Blackbird is in full song, pretty much calling time on my day of birding. Some of the regulars have escaped me today, Goldcrest, Jay and Nuthatch to name a few, but as Michael Jewel from Texas said earlier in the day “You can count the birds, but you can’t count on the birds”… Well said Michael.

I could have made this post 3 times longer, such was the input from expert and beginner birders from around the world, but I hope that gives you a good summary. I’ll be posting a separate blog detailing the amazing overall results of May 9th in a day or two, so I will keep you in suspense for now!

Thank you once again to everyone who has donated to the RSPB so far, but most of all for just getting involved, submitting your sightings and generally making this a day to remember.

Ashley

Jacks snapped, snapping twigs…

Now don’t go expecting a blog from me every day, but an opportunity arose this morning and I seized upon it, and a pure coincidence that I’d managed to find time for my first blog in ages only yesterday.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few snaps I took this morning from my office window. I have a small window, (thats a figuratively speaking kind of window you understand) at the start of each day, when the sun is in the right direction to photograph from the back of the house, through a ‘real window’…

I was observing our local Jackdaws collecting nesting material in the form of twigs from a neighbours tree and like the Carrion Crow I had watched the previous week, they were literally snapping off the chosen twigs with their beaks.

Jacks-3

The perfect twig

They seemed very fussy about the size of the twig, preferring something around 6″ to 8″ in length, with several being rejected after being broken off as they were clearly not quite right. Some much shorter twigs were also taken occasionally, perhaps used as fillers.

Jacks

Jackdaws will use a variety of nesting sites, from hollow trees, crevices in cliffs, old Rooks nests and probably most famously and annoyingly chimneys. With fewer home owners opting for an open fire these days and modern houses generally being without a chimney, its less of a problem, but you’ll know if you have a pair in yours.

Jacks-2

Adult Jackdaw, with that familiar pale eye.

Jackdaws can be told apart from the other members of the crow family in the UK, by that very pale blue/white iris, which shows a full adult bird. Interestingly, of the pair I was watching this morning, only one had the pale iris, the other had brown eyes, which generally indicates a first year bird. Yet studies around Jackdaws, indicate they only reach breeding maturity at two years!?

Jacks-5

Brown eyes, a first year Jackdaw?

Sexes are alike, so we can’t point fingers as to whether we have a toy boy here, or if it was the male who went for a ‘younger model’? Perhaps we have a case, as with other bird species, of a bird from the previous years brood helping out with nest building and the raising of the next generation, but from my observation, there just seemed to be the two birds working on the one nest. Can anyone shed any light on this?

Jacks-4

What was obvious, was the clear inexperience in the stick collecting department, of the ‘brown eyed’ bird often settling for a shorter twig and definitely slower at choosing the one that would easily break off with the right tug, in the right direction.

Great fun to witness though and nice to have time to dust off the old camera, even if I didn’t leave the house… I hope you enjoy my observations.

Jacks-6

Let the Birds come to you… a guide to lockdown birding.

Well here we all are, spending a lot more time at home than we’d bargained for this Spring. Wildlife enthusiasts across the country will be tearing their hair out, wondering what they are missing on their local nature reserve, or what new wildlife they might have seen on that cancelled holiday, but this is in many ways the perfect opportunity to find out exactly what we have in our own backyard.

Even if you have a small garden, or maybe non at all, we all have a view outside and with Spring migration in full flow, birds moving north into the UK to breed, could be passing through your airspace, dropping into some adjacent scrub, or even right into your garden.

Only this morning I had an email from some friends, who have a Ring Ouzel in their Norfolk garden today. This couple might well have been abroad this week if things had been different and would have missed out on an incredible garden record. You may be thinking, well that never happens to me, but you’re more likely to find out over the coming weeks, you never know your luck.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel

Currently Ospreys are moving north to breed, of which there have been numerous sightings over this weekend just gone, even a few sightings of Common Cranes as they perhaps take a detour across the UK, en-route to Scandinavian nesting sites.

Crane

Common Crane

Personally over the years I’ve seen some unusual birds from my window or the garden during times of passage, Short-eared Owl high over Hall Green, Birmingham, Reed Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler and Common Redstart, all dropped into the railway embankment at the rear of my house in Solihull for day visits.

Its just a case of being in the right place at the right time and lets face it, we’re going to be in the right place, for a long time yet…

Some birds migrate at night of course and there is some interesting reading out there on ‘Noc-migging’, which is worth googling. For example sound recordists have picked up thousands of Common Scoter passing over the UK mainland during the first few days of April, perhaps being easier to detect with the lack of road noise of late.

You may think that birds are unlikely to be in your neighbourhood, so perhaps this might make you think otherwise? In a previous life I worked in Birmingham wholesale market, where I imported flowers from around the world and sold on to florists. Its a line of work that rather governs your life style, early to bed and up well before the lark, to start work, sometimes as early as midnight. 

Working in a covered area like a huge barn, with huge doors at either end, you couldn’t see the sky, even when it finally got light, not even an office window to sneak a peak out of to see what might be flying by. Plus being close to the city centre, it was always going to narrow down the range of birds one was likely to see.

However, every now and again, I’d catch a glimpse of something to brighten my day, a Robin perhaps, or the dash of a Sparrowhawk on the look out for a docile feral pigeon, I once even saw a hopeful Kestrel inside the market, which can only have been on the look out for mice.

My top ‘market’ bird though was such a surprise, if I asked you to guess what it was, you’d probably real off a list of half of Britains bird species and still not get it. One dark Autumn morning I’d not long started my shift, around 2am and was putting together orders to be delivered that day, when my ears pricked up to a familiar bird call. However, it’s a bit like when you see someone you know, but you can’t remember where you know them from, as that face fits with a different place.

Well this bird call certainly didn’t fit with the concrete, indoor environment of Birmingham wholesale market thats for sure.

The bird was a Green Sandpiper, a wading bird, but so far from any water. Migrating at night, it must have been drawn in by the lights, possibly even forced down by a hunting Peregrine Falcon, which have become night time predators in some city centres, using the street lights to observe prey, moving through at night.

Green Sand

Green Sandpiper

So in some ways, this could be the perfect time to be homebound, as the birds could just come to you. Have your binoculars at the ready, make the most of the lower traffic noise and listen for bird calls and song and who knows what you might observe.

Start keeping a daily log of bird sightings and use the time to familiarise yourselves to the sounds of our common birds. The basis to my birdwatching expertise, was getting to know the familiar birds from my own experiences, then the wider you travel, the knowledge you have of the common birds, will help you narrow down the new birds you see, to the right species and this will aid a positive identification.  

I’d really like to hear from people with their own ‘lockdown bird sightings’, so please follow the blog and post comments below.

Swedens Crane Migration

The latest offering from Experience Nature wildlife watching tours, is a fabulous short break to Sweden in April 2019. Find out more below.

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The Lake Hornborgan area of Sweden plays host to one of the most incredible bird spectacles to be seen in Europe.

From late March to mid April, thousands of Common Cranes stop here to feed up on there journey to more northerly breeding grounds. The quantity of birds varies from year to year, but we have timed this trip to catch the peak of the birds movement and hope to see between 10 and 20,000 cranes at this time, possibly more. In 2018 the peak count reached upwards of 24,000 birds, plus of course a wide variety of wildfowl that are present at this time. A highlight of this trip will be the sight and sound of thousands of Cranes coming into the lake at dawn, which really has to be experienced.

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Whooper Swans and Goldeneye that stay on to breed in the area are joined by White Fronted & Pink-footed Geese, Wigeon, Pintail, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck in large numbers.

Other breeding birds in the area are setting up territory at this time and very evident are the grebes. Great-crested and Little Grebes are present, but in addition Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes breed here and often Black-necked pass through at this time, so it can be a Grebe bonanza.

We also visit other areas locally which are fabulous for birdwatching, sites where we could be lucky enough to see some birds that are either very rare in the UK, or don’t occur at all.

Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Black Woodpecker, Hawfinch and even Eagle Owl and Pygmy Owl.

Hawfinch

Our base for the 3 nights is a converted water mill, where the owner prides himself on offering top quality, locally sourced and organic food and wine. 

This tranquil riverside location has some wonderful local walks to enjoy and we also will have a canoe safari on one evening in search of Beaver which are relatively common in the area. 

This holiday is limited to just 8 people, so early booking is advised. Please follow the link below, or contact me for further information and a full itinerary.

Experience Nature Tours

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NEW – Night Owl Photography Workshops

Starting this October, I’ll be running some new “Night Owl” photography workshops.

Barn Owl

Using an indoor area, I’ll be providing the necessary equipment and knowledge needed for you to take some special images of some of our most loved birds.

All you need to do is bring your DSLR camera and press the button at the right moment, easy …

We will provide a multi flash set up and explain how we can use these to get these atmospheric shots. The workshop will be limited to 6 people, so you’ll have ample opportunity to get the images you are after.

The date of the next workshop is on my website, but if you would like more information, or to book a place, you can just message me.

Book here