Introducing us

FeaturedIntroducing us

We are Alison and Lee, and we love bird watching around Retford and beyond.  We don’t have any fancy equipment: just binoculars and a basic 30x zoom camera.  We don’t boast any rare sightings or go chasing around the country to spot something unusual; rather, we delight in the ordinary – the birds you can spot every day if you go out walking around your locality.  We aim to encourage you to do just that.  Often it’s just being in the right place at the right time – like this kingfisher who just happened to sit there while we were walking past!  There’s so much amazing nature right on our doorsteps!


“Pinking” finches

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Chaffinch, King’s Park

As we haven’t quite got back into the swing of things with our birding lately, we’re bringing some pictures taken earlier of a bird we haven’t focused on before: the chaffinch.

The chaffinch is a very common bird found in parks, gardens and countryside.  The one above was taken in King’s Park, but we’ve seen them in many different locations.

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The one we’ve pictured is a male, which, like many other species, is prettier than the female.  The male carries a lovely chestnuty pink chest and blue cap, whereas the female is mainly brown.  They both have the distinctive white wing bars, often an identifying feature when you see them in flight.


The above picture was taken down the Chesterfield canal last week – another location where they can be seen frequently.

Its call is a distinctive “pink” sound (hence the title), and its song in the spring and summer is a beautiful descending scale ending in a flourish.

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Chaffinches breed between April and July and typically lay 3-6 eggs.  They eat insects and seeds, and often take advantage of feeders in the garden we put out for them.

The chaffinch is a year-round resident in the UK, and often joined in autumn and winter by the similar brambling.  Bramblings should be arriving any time now – so we’re looking out for them and will keep you updated as soon as we spot one!


King of the waterways


One bird which never fails to delight us is the beautiful kingfisher.  We’ve been fortunate enough to see them in quite a few different places, and occasionally they will sit still long enough for us to get some pictures!

Many times, all you see of them is a bright blue flash as they fly down the river looking for food.  But if you’re patient and quiet, you might just catch one sitting and diving down into the water to catch a fish.  Its sharp call can attract attention, and sometimes the high-pitched “kichee” and flash of blue is all you experience of them.

Lee snapped the one above in Hallcroft around April time – it’s a female, as you can see by the orange on the bottom of its bill.  The male’s bill is all black.

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This one (male) we also saw in Hallcroft on the edge of the Idle Valley reserve, and featured it in our earlier blog: A lot to love about Valentines

Kingfishers are shy birds and will fly off if disturbed.  They can usually be found by the river or canal, but can sometimes take advantage of the fish in a garden pond if necessary.  They are vulnerable to harsh winter weather, and numbers often decrease during this time.

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The above photo (also a female) was one of the first we got of a kingfisher and is featured on our introduction page.  We spotted it in King’s Park, sitting by the dyke.

Kingfishers nest in tunnels lined with fish bones, usually in the side of a bank by water.  They will lay 5-7 eggs and hatch two broods between May and July.  Present in the UK all year round, they are always a delight to see.

Next time you’re by the river or canal, listen out for their high pitched call and watch for a flash of blue.  If you’re lucky, watch them dive for a fish – you won’t be disappointed!


Peckers’ paradise

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Male great spotted woodpecker, River Idle

Quite often on our walks by the river and other places we hear the “tap tap tap” sound of a woodpecker.  Sometimes they are difficult to spot, but the one above sat for ages on a bare branch by the river letting us snap pictures.  We’ve seen them in this location quite a few times, and last week was no exception.

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Lee had a wander down the river during the week, and brought back these pictures of the great spotted woodpecker.  You can tell the difference between the male and female, as the male has a red patch on the nape of its neck, missing in the female.

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The great spotted woodpecker is common in most areas, and can be a garden visitor in some locations.  It uses the tail to prop itself against a branch, where it finds insects and larvae beneath the bark.

We shared some pictures earlier this year of a young great spotted woodpecker being fed by its parent: Peek-a-boo!


These birds are always a delight to see, and we love to watch them.

When Lee got home and we put the pictures on the computer, we discovered that one of the woodpeckers was different.

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Lesser spotted woodpecker, River Idle

On closer inspection, we discovered that it was a lesser spotted woodpecker (pictured above).  This woodpecker is the smallest of the woodpecker family, and significantly less common than the great spotted and green woodpeckers.  We’ve seen one before in King’s Park and in the cemetery, but have never managed to get a clear picture.  The bars on its back and its size distinguish it from the great spotted woodpecker.  The male has a red cap and the female’s head is entirely black.

What an exciting spot!  We’ve been there a couple of times since Lee’s sighting, but haven’t seen it again yet.  I hope it stays around so I can get a glimpse of it too!

Still here…

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Chiffchaff, Chesterfield Canal

On Friday I decided to take a day off work as Monday is the start of term and my grandchildren came for lunch.  So in the afternoon, Lee and I decided to go for a walk down the Chesterfield Canal, with him driving the car for the first time.  It started off being quite a nice afternoon, but turned to rain later.  That didn’t bother us and we still managed to spot some interesting wildlife.

We followed a flock of small birds down the side of a field, where they were flitting in and out of the hedges.  Getting a closer look, we found that they were chiffchaffs.  We’ve written about these birds previously this year (Out with the chaff) when we first spotted them arriving in the spring.


Chiffchaff taken earlier this year

I’ve still been hearing them making their “chiff chaff” call down the River Idle on my morning walks with the dog, but know that it won’t be long before they start leaving us for the winter (although some do overwinter in the UK).  It was lovely for us to spot them on Friday – there were quite a few of them too!

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Other birds we spotted that afternoon were this delightful robin (above), a grey wagtail (below),


and a pair of ducks (mallard and a hybrid) which look quite ghostly in the shot we captured of them!

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Walking down the field following the chiffchaffs, we were surrounded by these beautiful cultivated sunflowers.


Not exactly wildlife, but they provided a lovely backdrop to our bird spotting.  I’m sure the birds will soon be taking advantage of the seeds, too.

Today (Sunday) looks like a nice sunny day, so I’m sure we’ll be off bird spotting this afternoon and hope to bring you some interesting pictures.

Window of opportunity

Window of opportunity

The coal tit

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Been feeling a little rough lately and not been out as often as I’d like.  So imagine my excitement as I sat for my breakfast as usual and spotted these great little birds picking sand and mortar out of my bricks right outside my back window.

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One of the smallest tits, the coal tit carries a more elongated white nape patch, white cheeks and a double white wing bar.

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It can often be seen in gardens, but loves conifer woods and parks.  It feeds mainly on insects and conifer seeds, and breeds in April to June, laying 8 to 10 eggs in a hole or crevice in tree or bank.

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The coal tit will take very little notice of people and may forage through shrubbery almost within arms length if you keep still and quiet.

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This one was fascinated with an old fishing cloth hanging on my washing line!

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There were many house sparrows in the garden too, taking advantage of the berries on the trees.

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And here they are enjoying a bath!

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It just shows you don’t always have to go far to spot birds – these were all taken through the window in the comfort of my chair!

Last of the summer sun

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Young goldfinch

At the Bank Holiday weekend, we were thinking about going to the seaside as we hadn’t managed a trip during my holidays from work.  However, our very good friends invited us to spend the day with them at their caravan in Laughterton, so we decided that this would be preferable to sitting in queues of traffic which were inevitable given the excellent weather!

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I think we made the right decision.  We spent a lovely relaxing afternoon sitting on deck chairs and enjoying the sun, and also managed to capture some lovely birds we found on the site.

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The first pictures are of some beautiful young goldfinches which were flitting around us all afternoon.  As you can see, they don’t have the colours of the adult birds, but they are still very charming (did you know a group of goldfinches is called a ‘charm’?).

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In my opinion, goldfinches are one of the UK’s prettiest birds.  They are quite plentiful, and can often be heard making their chattering sounds: a mixture of calls and liquid trills.   Goldfinches are with us all year round, and can be found on wasteland, farmland, woodland and sometimes they visit our gardens.  They can often be seen around thistles, and are easy to identify in flight due to the undulating pattern.

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Another bird we were pleased to see was the spotted flycatcher.  These will be leaving us soon: they occur in the UK between May and September.  We’ve seen quite a few of them this year, and they’re always interesting to watch, as they leave a branch to catch flies and return, often to the same spot.

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This one kept returning to an open branch, giving us a good opportunity to snap some pictures.

Since the Bank Holiday weekend, we’ve managed another couple of short walks around the locality, but unfortunately the sun seems to have abandoned us!

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Lee captured this lovely long-tailed tit at Ordsall golf course.

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And who can resist a robin on a headstone?  Taken at the cemetery, obviously!

Well, if this was the last of our summer, it was a good finish despite a difficult start.  Now we have the autumn migration to look forward to!



15 minutes down the river bank

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Yesterday afternoon, we decided to have a little stroll down the River Idle and enjoy the sunshine.   We thought we’d share with you the wildlife we spotted during that short walk.  None of the species we saw were difficult to find so we didn’t have to look very hard, and they’re ones you can commonly spot around the local area.  The woodpigeon above was taking a drink in the river and stayed put while we captured a couple of shots.   These common birds are quite pretty when you see them close up!

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Dunnock family 

We heard some birds calling and Lee correctly identified them as dunnocks.  Taking a closer look, there was a family of them in the trees and bushes, and we stood and watched them for quite some time.  To find out more about these lovely birds, see our previous post where we compare them with house and tree sparrows: Under-rated birds

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Comma butterfly

As well as the birds, we also spotted this butterfly.  Not being that knowledgeable about butterflies, we looked up what it was when we returned home, and found out that it was a comma butterfly.

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Comma and small white butterfly

We read that the comma butterfly suffered a decline during the twentieth century, but now it is on the up again and spreading northwards.  The scalloped edges of its wings help to camouflage it among leaves.  The small white, pictured below the comma, is a common site in our parks and gardens.

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Pheasants and carrion crow

On the grassy patch near the river, we saw some young pheasants with a crow.  The young and female pheasants don’t have the bright colours of the adult males, so they don’t stand out as much.





We saw and heard a lovely robin: their song always cheers us up, whatever the season!

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House martin

Then, on the way back, there was a house martin nest attached to one of the buildings, and we managed to capture a young one peeking out of the nest.  Like the swallow, they are summer visitors, returning to Africa in September or October.  They’ll be leaving us soon, so make the most of them while they’re here!

So with just 15 minutes to spare, we were quite pleased with our little walk and didn’t have to go very far to spot some fantastic wildlife.