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!

A ‘tail’ to tell

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As the heading suggests, this bird has a very characteristic movement.  I’m sure most of you will have seen one by lakes, paths, rivers and even at your feet or close while doing your weekly shopping or parking your car in town – the fantastic pied wagtail.

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Its squeaky call and long bobbing up and down tail never fail to amaze us.  A slender black and white bird, it walks with jerky movements, rushing after its prey: flies and all kinds of insects.

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Pied wagtails love bare areas such as golf courses, roofs, asphalt roads, where the birds can easily see the insects they need to catch.

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The call is an easily recognisable “zee ze zitt”; when excited or in territorial conflicts, the call is a long, very fast series of indignant high chirping notes.

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Its nest is a grassy cup in stone walls, beneath roof tiles, banks among the ivy, underneath stones, etc.   As you can see above, we got a  picture of one under a railway bridge in a missing brick hole.  5 to 6 eggs are laid, white with greyish black freckly spots, and has 2 or 3 broods between April and August.

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We captured our pictures mostly by the River Idle; others by the Chesterfield Canal, where we got the adults feeding the much duller grey young.

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The one above is a regular visitor to my garden.  He comes morning, noon and tea time and we’ve named him ‘Minstrel’ (get it?).

We never tire of the wagtails all year round: they are a pleasure to see and hear.  It’s black and white: simple.

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Jay walking

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This bird, a member of the crow family, has been very difficult to capture in its full glory.  The last 4 or 5 months we’ve seen them, but as soon as you get near them, they go into hiding.  So it was much to my surprise when at Idle Valley beside the river, 4 to 5 jays were on show hunting for food on a red hot day.

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I watched these jays for ages as they hunted smaller birds, hanging off the willow branches over the river for insects and flies.  Small blue tits, great tits and long tailed tits carried on taking food from the leaves, unaware of the stalking jays.

As you can see in the first picture, the beautifully coloured jay is looking upwards at a small tit that had just landed.

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The jay will breed in various types of woodland, and prefers areas with acorns and beech nuts.  These are cached in autumn as food for the winter.  They will also eat fruit, as well as others’ eggs and, as I witnessed, the young of smaller birds.  Jays are quite common, but vigilant and very shy, making them difficult to approach.

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Their plumage is a pinkish and greyish colour, with a whitish throat and vent.  The wings are eye-catching black and white with a blueish panel on the top end.  They also show off a streaked head and black moustache.  The crown feathers are sometimes raised, and it can be located by its loud, intense, hoarse scream – normally used as a warning call, advertising their presence to others.

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I’ve heard these birds in the woods at Ordsall, and when there’s a group of them it can get really noisy.

The jay will nest in a tree, and the eggs are a pale greeny-brown with a black squiggle across the top, making it look like a crack in the egg.

These pictures have taken a number of months to get, and although they are loud, mischievous and take little birds, they are a lovely sight, and we never get tired of hearing them on our birding adventures.

We hope you find them as pretty as we do.  When you hear a row in the woods, could it be a jay?

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Catch it while you can: the spotted flycatcher

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Such a pleasure to see each year!  Last year Alison and I watched a couple of these splendid little birds swooping down from a branch up the woods over a sand bunker on the golf course (see previous blog post: featheredfriendsthroughthelens.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/flycatchers-spotted/).  The first picture last year was one sitting on a telegraph wire at one of our regular birding places.

These pictures were captured last week at the same place as last year, but this time a lot nearer and clearer: sat on a fence, on a roof and on a gravestone.

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This plain looking but beautiful spotted flycatcher arrives late May and stays until October, wintering in Africa.  It will breed in gardens, parks, forests (often in small glades), openings, tree trunks, buildings, or sometimes an open nest box.

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The dark streaky breast and longish slender bill really set the bird off for us.  Sadly, these lovely little birds (related to thrushes) are on the decline.  As you can see, the bird often sits upright, showing off its dark streaking and dark eye, with indistinct narrow, pale-ish eye ring. spotted flycatcher (4).JPG

The flycatchers are not usually feeding young before the end of June, when the insects become more plentiful for the young family members.

They usually lay 4-6 eggs between May to July, and the young often fledge after around 16 days.

The call of the flycatcher is not unlike that of the chaffinch: a sharp “tsich tsich!” with clipped high notes, often overlooked.

We’ve seen it in action taking off from a perch, flicking its wings and launching off to catch flies (hence the name).  This sighting has been another cracker for us.  It’s not often seen as close up as we’ve had the opportunity to see this year – and so exciting to find it in the same place as last year!

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The reeds are alive…with the sound of warbling

The reeds are alive…with the sound of warbling

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Today’s songster has the reeds singing beside most lakes, quarries and wetland areas.  The pictures this week are of the reed warbler.  We love to hear their chatter, and sometimes manage to see them climbing up to the top of the reed stems.

The reed warbler may sometimes breed away from the reeds, in willows growing over shallow waters, and during migration periods can be found in unexpected places such as thickets and hedgerows.  This can pose identification problems with other similar warblers.

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Its repetitive song is very distinctive:  a sort of “trik trik chrr chrr chew chew trrt trrt tiri tiri”.  When they start, this call can go on and on for ages.  It’s so beautiful to hear – and a bonus to see and get pictures.

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The reed warbler carries  a bright buff underside, a pale brown body with a long flat head, but will often raise the crown feathers when singing or excited.  It has a thin pale eye ring and a slim long sharp bill.

As you can see from the pictures, the bird is very adept at grasping vertical stems and shuffling through the reed beds, peering through while balancing.

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The reed warbler is widespread, and is one of the birds that often falls fowl of the cuckoo, which often chooses the reed warbler’s nest to lay its eggs in.  The reed warbler will then look after the young cuckoo, after its own eggs have been removed.  The nest is of moss, reedheads and grass, often woven around several upright stems in the reedbed.  It usually lays 3 to 5 eggs in 2 broods from May to July.

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It feeds on insects and spiders, and will also eat seeds.  It is fantastic to listen to – listen out for their distinctive sound when you’re walking near the river or canal.  Most of these we found around Idle Valley reserve, and also got a picture of the similar sedge warbler, with its unmistakable silvery white stripe over the eyes.

As a little extra, we’d like you to see the blue pheasant we spotted in a field at Creswell Craggs.  We’d never seen one before and thought it was pretty!

Surprise!

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Look what Lee found in the Chesterfield Canal this week!

As our readers know, Lee gets out and about most days looking for birds.  However, he didn’t expect to find this in the water!

This lovely grass snake was taking a dip so Lee decided to capture it in a couple of photos, which we thought we’d share with you.

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We’ll be back on Sunday with our usual weekly blog.

Woodland magic

Homes for nesting birds

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Blue tit

Still on a high from capturing the cuckoo pictures last week, we thought we’d change the format a little this week.

We went on a mission to find nesting sites in local woodland, and try to get pictures of the birds going to and fro with food or nesting materials.  Obviously, we don’t get too close or hang around too long as we don’t want to disturb them!

First we had to find the locations and then stand quietly (again, being careful not to disturb them) to capture the day to day goings on of the doting parents.  Hard work, but well worth it in the end.

Nearly every crack, crevice and hole in the trees were occupied by nesting birds: mainly blue tits and great tits.

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Blue tit

They were very busy feeding – I managed to capture a blue tit with a caterpillar in its beak.

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Blue tit with caterpillar

I watched birds going in and out for days on several visits.  As one parent left, the other one went in.

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Great tit

As the bird went away for more food, they would always stop away from the entrance of the nest site and take a look around for predators before entering the nesting site.

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Blue tit

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Great spotted woodpecker

It’s great to see the birds nesting, giving hope for subsequent years and the growth of numbers.

The last few pictures are a few more nests and nesting birds we’ve encountered while on our birding ventures.

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Mute swan

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Great crested grebe

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Blackcap’s nest hidden in a dense bramble bush

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Robin hanging around with food for youngsters

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And to finish: a beautifully made goldfinch nest in the top of a gauze bush, full of fledglings and parents feeding them.  Fantastic!

Clock this one: the cuckoo!

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The bird we’ve got pictures of in this blog is one you will only hear from April until July, when it migrates back south.

I’ve heard them call from being old enough to hear them, but until now, at 56 years of age, I had never seen one. Neither had Alison.  So this sighting was a first for us, and to be honest with you, we’re still on a high.  Like Alison’s encounter with a nightingale last week, this is one of the finest birding moments yet.

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What can I say?  The cuckoo is one of a kind.  We’ve been pursuing them for ages, often hearing them but not catching a glimpse.  They are not like other birds in that they don’t build a nest, but lay in another bird’s nest.  The female usually lays around 9 eggs, one per nest, between May and June.  They will often choose a dunnock’s nest, or reed warbler, etc., and the cuckoo’s egg will look very similar to the host bird’s eggs.  When the chick hatches, before the other eggs, it uses its back to tip out all the other eggs in the nest, so that it gets the sole attention of the foster parent.

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As the name suggests, the call is a loud “cuckoo” repeated several times.  We heard this one calling and followed the sound, quietly hiding among the trees.  Then it decided to dive down to the ground to pick up some kind of food: insects, moths, caterpillars are its favourites.

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We just stood while it flew down, then it would fly back up into the trees.  As you can see, it’s quite a large bird with greyish bars on its chest, and has beautiful yellow eyes.  The female has brown bars.

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A characteristic of the cuckoo is its low held wings.  Cuckoos are often seen perched on telephone wires or posts around farmland areas, but often you only see them as they fly from tree to tree.

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We were very lucky to be able to stand and watch these cuckoos come and sit on the grass in front of us: a wonderful birding moment, in the right place at the right time again.

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This one has taken a while to be able to capture, but putting the time in and never giving up meant we got there in the end, and the rewards are incredible.

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This was definitely a moment to treasure for us!  If we go cuckoo, who cares! Cuckoo!