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!
As you know, we’ve been visiting various places just outside Retford to find winter visitors like redwings and fieldfares. We’ve seen them down the canal and in Rufford Park, but hadn’t spotted any closer to home.
However, the other day, Lee was walking down the River Idle a short distance from home, and spotted both redwings and fieldfares.
It was great to see them so close to home – and he managed to capture some shots of the fieldfares (above and below).
The fieldfare is closely related to a very familiar bird: the song thrush. These are regular visitors to our gardens and have an absolutely beautiful song. This one was posing nicely for the camera!
He also got some lovely pictures of dunnocks – a common bird but nonetheless very pretty to look at when you take a close look at its plumage.
Next time you think you see a sparrow in the garden, have a closer look: it might be a lovely dunnock (pictured above).
There was also a greenfinch down the river (pictured above) – it was quite far away, but hopefully you can make out its lovely colour.
And to finish, this grey wagtail was skating on thin ice in the pond in King’s Park!
Don’t forget to put food out for your garden birds in this cold weather, and make sure that water is topped up and not frozen. It’s a difficult time for our feathered friends, so it’s good to help them if you can!
Sunday afternoon we decided to have a walk round Idle Valley Nature Reserve. It was fairly sunny to start with and we headed towards the lake to see what we could find. As we walked along the path we heard a loud honking noise overhead, looked up, and saw a pair of swans flying over. However, they weren’t the usual mute swans, but whooper swans with yellow bills. These birds are winter visitors and not as common as mutes, so it was great to catch a glimpse of them even though we didn’t get a picture.
We also found a couple of bullfinches after the winter berries – it’s always a delight to see these pretty pink birds.
We found a pair of them. The ones pictured are males – the females are a buff colour rather than the bright pink of the males.
We also saw several flocks of long-tailed tits. These birds move around together in flocks as they feed, and you can hear them making their “seep-seep” call as they move from tree to tree. By this time we were losing the light so didn’t get any pictures of them. Looking more closely at this flock, we found one bird which was greeny-yellow with an eye stripe and black feet – a chiff chaff! As you may know, these are summer visitors; however, some now spend the winter in the UK, so this one must have been one of those. Again, a good spot for a late autumn afternoon!
A great spotted woodpecker also put in an appearance, but didn’t hang around very long!
Lee had wander down the River Idle Monday afternoon, and managed to capture a few more birds. This lovely song thrush was taking advantage of the berries and getting stocked up for the winter.
He also spotted the kingfisher:
It perched on a branch over the river allowing him to take a picture, although it was quite far away.
Common house sparrows also appeared – in the above picture you can see both the male and female. These birds are very familiar in our gardens, but are declining so it’s important we put food out for them. They may be common but we think they are pretty!
He also got some lovely pictures of robins, but we’re saving these for Christmas – not long now!
Great tits, Rufford
This afternoon we decided to have a trip to Rufford, as we’d heard there were lots of redwings there (as you know we’ve been looking out for these for a while). What we didn’t realise was that there was a Christmas market on and it was very busy. We tried to find a quiet place, and saw quite a few tits taking advantage of the feeders provided.
Great tit and blue tit
They were particularly fond of the coconut half, and we saw great tits, blue tits and coal tits feasting on this. We also spotted some long-tailed tits in the nearby trees.
It’s really important during the winter months to put food out for the birds that visit your garden, and it can also provide lots of interest.
We did spot the redwings we went for, although the pictures are disappointing due to the lack of light.
The redwings were flying between the trees, often hiding inside the conifers, eating the abundant berries on the trees. We stood and watched them for quite some time, impressed by the bright red flanks at the bottom of their wings, and the distinctive eye stripe. These birds are winter visitors, like the fieldfares we featured a couple of weeks ago. We were very pleased to see quite a few of them, and will go back on a brighter day to get some better pictures!
This afternoon we decided to have a walk in the woods by the golf course at Ordsall. We were hoping to spot a redwing or two but didn’t manage it. However, we did spot some interesting birds.
The first spot was a lone fieldfare sat at the top of a tree.
It sat there for a while before making a loud “shakshakshak” call and flying off.
As we walked further round the wood, we heard the unmistakable “dwipdwip” sound of the nuthatch. Not long afterwards, we spotted two of them flitting around in the trees. One was tapping on the bark like a woodpecker – in fact, when we first heard it we wondered whether that’s what it was.
These birds will often hammer at nuts and seeds wedged in the bark of the trees – this is what they were doing when they caught our attention.
You can see from the above picture that this one was successful in finding something to eat. These birds are year round residents and stay in pairs throughout the seasons.
Nuthatches like deciduous woodlands, parks, and sometimes will visit gardens. They can also climb down trees head first. We spent a good few minutes watching these birds, and managed to get a few pictures despite the poor light.
While watching the nuthatches, a flock (or charm) of goldfinches was flitting in and out of the nearby trees, making their typical chattering noise. These colourful finches are also year-round residents, but many will migrate to Europe during the winter.
We also spotted this lovely female blackbird (above), and song thrush (below).
Walking back to the car, we stopped to admire the beautiful afternoon sunset.
So the redwings eluded us again, but will get them soon!
As you know, we’ve been on the lookout for our autumn and winter visitors in our birding trips lately, particularly for redwing and fieldfares. Since mid-October, we’ve been visiting a certain part of the Chesterfield canal where we caught sight of flocks of fieldfares last year (see previous blog Full circle). However, so far we’ve been largely unsuccessful.
On Sunday we had a very cold walk down Chainbridge Lane and spotted quite a few fieldfares, but they were very distant and we couldn’t really get any closer. However, we knew they were here!
So yesterday Lee had a walk down the canal again, where we’d seen them in large numbers last year. The birds did not disappoint! There were quite a number of them at the top of the trees, and luckily for us, a lot closer than the ones we saw on Sunday.
Fieldfares belong to the thrush family, and are the largest member. They join us in the autumn and winter from northern Europe and Scandinavia, and are common and widespread, often seen in large flocks. They like open fields, hedgerows, orchards and parks. When I was a child I remember one visiting our garden for apples we’d put out in a particularly snowy winter.
They are beautiful birds, with a rather long tail, grey head, grey back and rump, with a rich brown saddle, heavily streaked ochre breast, black tail and white underparts. They are often seen with redwing; last year we managed to capture them together, but this time they were on their own.
We finish with a relative of the fieldfare: the very common blackbird, but beautiful none the less.
We’re looking forward to bringing you more pictures of winter visitors, including the brambling: Lee saw one yesterday and I’m sure will get some good snaps soon! Watch this space!
Mute swan, Idle Valley
This week, Lee’s been out and about quite a bit around the local area and managed to snap a few interesting bird pictures. We decided to bring you a selection of them for our blog this week.
The first is this lovely mute swan, regularly found on the lakes at Idle Valley. These common, widespread birds always provide a delightful sight, and we never get fed up of seeing them. They’re regulars on the River Idle, in King’s Park, and in fact, most places where there is water.
Female goosander, River Idle
Also on the River Idle, we’ve seen a few female goosanders. We featured these sawbill ducks in one of our blogs last year (Winter surprises )
So far we haven’t seen any male ones, but there were around four females this week. They are quite shy and will disappear if you get too close, so we had to be very quiet and creep up on them to get these pictures.
Another water bird we’ve seen at Idle Valley is the tufted duck.
Tufted ducks, Idle Valley
The male is a striking black and white with a yellow eye and a tuft on its head, whereas the female is more of a browny colour. These are commonly found at Idle Valley and other lake locations.
Other birds of note this week were the redpoll:
Redpoll, Idle Valley
You can just about see its red cap on the picture, but the light was very poor so it was difficult to get a good view.
Siskin, Idle Valley
The siskin is a lovely little finch which we usually see more of during the winter months, when they are joined by more visitors from Europe.
Siskin, Idle Valley
Here they’re taking advantage of seeds, their favourite diet. They particularly like alders, conifers and birch trees.
Kingfisher, Ladybridge, Chesterfield Canal
The kingfisher also put in an appearance – always a delight to see – even more so when it perches for its photograph!
Robin, Idle Valley
And finally – the robin. At this time of year it’s always a pleasure to hear their song. They continue to sing all year round – and will even sing at night if near a street light.
We’ve had a couple of fleeting glimpses of redwing so far, but haven’t managed to get any pictures yet. Watch this space – we will get them soon!
Mandarin duck, female
This rather attractive duck appeared amongst mallards and others in a field close to the River Trent. At first we were unsure what it was, but it was strikingly different from the others around it.
We asked the advice of more knowledgeable birders, who told us it was a female mandarin duck. The male is absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a male with this one, but we’ve found this image on the internet so you can see how beautiful they are:
In this picture you can just about see the mallard above to compare the size: it is a little smaller. It is thought that these exotic ducks were originally escaped from collections, but there are pockets of them which breed in the UK. They prefer freshwater lakes and slow rivers, particularly close to woodland.
Lee’s been visiting Idle Valley lately, and captured some other ducks of interest.
The pochard is a common diving duck, and are often seen in large numbers during the autumn migration period, although the one we pictured above was on its own.
The wigeon (pictured on the left above) is more widespread in the UK in the winter. The one above again was on its own, but is likely to be joined by more of these as we approach winter. The male duck has a loud musical whistle “whee-oo”, which is quite distinctive.
Another duck we’ve seen quite often is the gadwall.
On first sight it looks quite plain, but is rather attractive when you get a closer look. Gadwalls often flock on reservoirs and lakes during the winter, regularly mixing with coots.
Just to finish with – not a duck, but who can resist a beautiful mute swan?
If you get the chance, visit some of our lakes and reservoirs this autumn and winter – it’s amazing what can turn up at this time of year!