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!
You might have noticed we’ve been spending quite a bit of time at the coast recently! We’ve spotted some interesting wading birds on the East Yorkshire coast, and thought we’d share them with you for our blog this week.
We’ve been delighted to watch a family of ringed plovers hatch their young, and watch the parents anxiously protecting their chicks.
This pair successfully raised three chicks. As you can see, they are really well camouflaged on the beach, and it was only when they moved that we were able to spot them.
The ringed plover is a widespread wading bird, breeding on sandy and shingle beaches. It can be found throughout the year, and nests in a shallow scrape in sand or stones. We were surprised at how exposed their nest seemed to be: had we not spotted it, it would have been easily trodden on.
They feed on the ground, picking up small insects and worms.
Another common wading bird we found on the beach is the dunlin:
On one of our many walks across the beach, we found a number of wading birds feeding in a puddle which had formed on the sand.
They can typically be found in groups, probing in the mud along the shore, where they pick up insects, worms and molluscs.
If you get a chance to visit our coastline, have a look out for these charming birds!
Everywhere we go recently, we are treated to a cacophony of bird song! Spring is a lovely time of year for birders, and we always enjoy seeing and hearing the birds defend their territories and raise their young.
This yellowhammer (above and below) was seen near the woods at Ordsall, and treated us to its “little bit of bread and no chee-ee-eese!” song – a real sign that spring is here.
Other birds we are hearing everywhere at the moment are the lovely blackcap, whitethroat, willow warbler, chiffchaff and garden warbler. We were even amazed to hear a grasshopper warbler recently, although we never actually saw it.
We’ve looked at chiffchaffs and willow warblers before, and the best way to tell them apart is by their song, with the chiffchaff continually repeating its name, and the willow warbler displaying a descending scale finishing on a flourish.
The linnet is another beautiful bird which always delights us with its chattering song in the spring and summer. The male shows a brighter pink breast during the breeding season.
The whitethroat has a more ‘scratchy’ sound, and will often fly up and down from one bush to another while singing. They’re often quite difficult to capture as they are continually flitting about.
The garden warbler’s song is similar to the blackcap’s: melodious, mellow and beautiful to hear. It took us quite a while to differentiate between the two, but the garden warbler has a typically longer phrase.
The blackcap’s song has a characteristic whistling crescendo at the end, and it is this feature that helps us tell it apart from the garden warbler’s song.
It’s fascinating to learn different birds’ songs and to know what is around you without actually seeing any birds. If you fancy giving it a go, visit the RSPB website, where you will find examples of each bird and their song (for example, the blackcap can be found here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/blackcap/).
On Sunday we drove down Chainbridge Lane to park up near some of the lakes around Lound. I remarked as Lee drove down (very slowly down the bumpy road!) that last time we came down here in the summer we saw a yellow wagtail.
No sooner had I said it than a little yellow wagtail appeared on the road in front of us! Lee stopped the car and quickly grabbed his camera from the back seat to capture this delightful little bird.
It moved very quickly but allowed us to get fairly close before flying off over the fields. We spotted quite a few more birds that afternoon, including some families with their young, like these coots below.
The following day Lee had a walk down the golf course and was fortunate enough to spot another yellow wagtail!
The sunshine brought out the beautiful bright yellow colour, reflected in the water in the picture above.
You can also make out a lovely linnet in the photograph above, and both birds are reflected in the water, where the wagtail was exploring, picking out food.
Along with the yellowhammer, this bird is our brightest yellow-coloured bird, and certainly seemed to shine in the beautiful sun we’ve had for the past few days.
The yellow wagtail is a summer visitor to the UK, and winters in West Africa. Unfortunately, it has declined in number over the past few years, and is nowhere near as common as the grey and pied wagtails we are more familiar with. It can be distinguished from the grey wagtail by its yellow head and brightly coloured plumage.
This wagtail breeds in short, damp grassland, and prefers to be close to water. Its call is a loud “tsweep”, and its song repeats 2-3 notes: “tsree-ree”.
We were so pleased to see this bird again after not having seen one for a while – they definitely are little rays of sunshine!
We promised you a puffin special – and here it is!
We went back to RSPB Bempton Cliffs on Saturday. The weather was fine apart from a chilly breeze on the clifftops, and the beautiful sunshine made it an ideal day for photographs.
As you know, we visited Bempton at Easter, and were very disappointed that the puffins weren’t yet on the cliffs.
This time there was no such disappointment – we were able to spot quite a few puffins among the other birds nesting on the cliffs.
Puffins are members of the auk family, and are surprisingly small when you see them against the other seabirds (see below with razorbills).
During the breeding season their bills are brightly coloured, but these plates drop off during the winter to reveal a drab, darker bill. We rarely see them like this as they winter out at sea and only come inland to breed in spring and summer.
They nest in colonies in burrows on steep grassy slopes around cliffs, so Bempton is an ideal location for them. You can see a pair peeping out of a hole below:
We were delighted to see the puffins and are looking forward to visiting again when they have their young, known as ‘pufflings’. How exciting!
We spent the weekend at Barmston Beach, near Bridlington, and these delightful little birds turned up!
Turnstones are so called because that’s exactly what they do: turn stones over on the beach in search for food.
We were having one of our regular walks across the beach and spotted them running around near the shoreline. They actually let us get quite close without flying off, so Lee managed to get some decent pictures of them.
Turnstones can be quite tame, as we discovered in Bridlington harbour car park, where we found one or two running around picking up what they could find.
They are common winter visitors from Canada, and some of the immature birds also spend the summer on our shores. In flight they have a distinctive black and white stripe.
They are often seen in groups, and tend to prefer rocky and stony shores. They can also sometimes be found inland on passage.
We also saw sanderlings on the shore but didn’t get a picture this time – they move so quickly! And this beautiful oystercatcher:
Unfortunately they didn’t let us get so close, but they are really beautiful birds with their distinctive red beaks and black and white plumage.
Next time you’re at the seaside, keep a look out for some of our lovely coastal birds!
The bird we’re featuring this week is an absolute delight – always a pleasure to watch even though they are fairly common.
Lee spotted these treecreepers in Kings Park and down the Chesterfield Canal.
We’ve often stood and watched them for a long time as they circle around the bark of a tree working their way up, just to fly back down and start again or repeat the process on a different tree.
As you can see, when their white bellies are against the tree, they are really well camouflaged and often very difficult to spot because of this. The best chance you have of seeing one is when they fly down to the bottom of the tree or fly off to another tree.
They have fine bills, adapted for removing insects from the bark of the tree. Their tails provide a prop as they climb the tree, in a similar way to a woodpecker’s. They love woodland but will also visit parks, gardens and farmland where there are old trees.
Lee also spotted this nuthatch down the Chesterfield Canal.
Nuthatches will also circle tree trunks for food, but they will often head downwards, unlike treecreepers. This one made quite a nice picture at the top of the conifer tree among the pine cones.
Next time you are walking in woodland, keep an eye out for these fascinating birds!
Last week we wrote about birds of prey that we’d spotted while holidaying on the east coast of Yorkshire. Today we’ll look at some of the seabirds that we found at RSPB Bempton Cliffs.
Our first picture is a gannet – there were many of these on the cliffs, building their nests, courting, squabbling and diving into the water to catch fish.
Gannets breed in large colonies, such as the one pictured above. Many adults winter in British waters in small flocks, but the young ones will migrate to warmer climates. They are one of our first coastal birds to return to the cliffs to breed, and were there in plentiful numbers when we visited last week.
Another seabird we were pleased to see was the kittiwake (pictured above). These birds are different from the herring and blackheaded gulls that we call “seagulls”, and will not visit our towns and cities for food consumed by humans.
Like the gannets, they breed in colonies on coastal cliffs or occasionally on large buildings. They are common migrants in spring and autumn, but scarce in winter in the UK.
In the picture above, they can be seen alongside the guillemot, another cliff breeding bird which we saw in fairly large numbers.
Sharing the cliffs are also jackdaws (pictured above). We are familiar with these as they are quite common in many places, and are our smallest corvid (of the crow family). Although very common, we think they are beautiful birds, and this one looked especially stunning against the sea in the background.
We were disappointed that there were no puffins on the cliffs on the day we visited, but they are now there and we will be visiting again very shortly – we will bring you a puffin special and that’s a promise!