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!
On several of our walks lately, we’ve seen the lovely greenfinch. Our local cemetery is full of them, in the tops of the trees, making their distinctive “tzoo-ee” call.
We’ve also seen them around Lound, down the Chesterfield Canal and in King’s Park in Retford, but haven’t yet been lucky enough to have them visit the garden.
There were loads of them in the trees in the cemetery, and they kept flocking from one tree to another. They were quite far away right in the tree tops, so sometimes difficult to make out and photograph.
Greenfinches will often visit gardens in winter; I remember as a child they were regular visitors to our feeders. They are also common in parks and woodland, and they tend to gather in large flocks.
The male bird is more brightly coloured than the female and the juvenile birds, and can be quite striking in the breeding season. They are seed-eaters, and will take seeds from trees to short plants, often feeding on the ground. They also eat berries and nuts, visiting bird tables and feeders.
They are present in the UK all year round, and lay 4-6 eggs in 1 or 2 broods between April and July. Their nest is made of grass and twigs in thick bushes or trees.
We’re sure you’ll agree these birds are delightful; we’re always happy to see them wherever we go!
Last week Lee spotted some siskins down the Chesterfield Canal and we wrote a little about them then.
This week, he’s found more of them on his regular walks in King’s Park, so we thought we’d share these pictures with you.
They were really high in the tops of the trees, so these pictures have been taken from quite a distance.
Siskins are delightful little birds, very agile and always flitting about, so this makes them quite difficult to capture.
As we mentioned last week, they are present in the UK all year round, but often more easily spotted in the winter as they move around in flocks looking for food, and their numbers are boosted with more birds arriving from colder climates.
Their call consists of twittering phrases, and they are often seen in woods and parks. You may even be lucky enough to get one in your garden!
It’s a joy to see these lovely little birds on our doorstep!
And finally, a bathing blackbird…
Although the weather is still wintry, it’s encouraging to see longer daylight hours and birds getting ready for the breeding season – an exciting time for birders! We’re looking forward to what we might find in the weeks ahead, and sharing with our readers.
On Sunday afternoon we had a wander down the Chesterfield Canal hoping to spot some redpolls and siskins which we’ve seen down there before.
It was a good decision as we found some really interesting birds! We first spotted a buzzard sitting on a post, then came across these beautiful bramblings.
Bramblings are winter visitors to the UK, and often found with their close relative, the chaffinch.
We found three of them sitting in a tree near some feeders. They sat there quite a while and let us take pictures of them. Lee saw some back in October, but I hadn’t seen any this winter up until now, so it was really great to spot them.
We didn’t find the redpolls and siskins, but Lee went back today, and there they were! Above is a lesser redpoll, easily distinguishable by its little red cap, giving it its name.
The female lacks the red cap of the male, but still sports its streaky back. In the above photos you can see them with a great tit and a blue tit.
Siskins also turned up on the feeders! These birds are present in the UK all year round, but are more widely distributed in the winter, when more birds arrive from Europe. The siskin is smaller than a greenfinch, and has a forked tail and narrow bill. Its body is streaky, and it has a yellow rump and yellow flashes on its wings.
As you can see, they are really pretty, and enough to brighten up any winter’s day!
And as a bonus, a great spotted woodpecker also appeared on the feeders.
A good couple of days’ birding!
Although we haven’t ventured very far in our bird spotting lately, we’ve found some lovely birds in the immediate locality.
These beautiful bullfinches delighted us last year in Kings Park, and they seem to have made it their home again this winter.
Lee has seen them almost every day on his walks into town, and often people will stop and ask him what he’s looking at. When they see the birds and their bright colours, they are usually pleasantly surprised that these gorgeous birds can be found so close to home.
The bullfinch is resident in the UK all year round, but often more easily spotted in the winter when it is stocking up on berries in our parks and gardens.
You can also see the female on the top right in the above photograph. The female is a lot paler than the male, with a buff breast rather than the conspicuous pink of the male.
Their round bills are ideally suited to feeding on soft buds, flowers and shoots rather than hard seeds, and they often feed together in family groups.
Although their plumage is bright, they can be quite difficult to spot as they are quite shy and will move on if disturbed.
The call is a low, soft whistle mixed with other calls. They nest in the spring in a cup of twigs, laying 4 or 5 eggs in two broods.
We’re sure you’ll agree these birds are beautiful – we’re so lucky to have them on our doorstep.
During the past week, we’ve managed to get out and spot some interesting birds, taking advantage of the milder weather. Lee found this great tit in King’s Park, and I thought the shape of the branches of the tree made an interesting picture.
Last Sunday we had a walk down one of our favourite spots down the Chesterfield Canal. We didn’t spot anything for a while, but, taking a closer look at one of the neighbouring fields, we discovered it was full of fieldfares.
They were literally covering the whole field, many taking advantage of the puddles. There were also a few redwings among them – see if you can spot one or two! They were quite far away, but the sheer number of them impressed us – there must have been around a hundred.
Amazing! It made our day to see so many of them.
We also had an afternoon venture to Rufford Park while I was still off work, hoping to see the hawfinches. We didn’t find any, but saw lots of redwings in the trees and on the ground near the car park.
There were also plenty of chaffinches:
and a beautiful singing robin, which nearly came and took food out of my hand:
Yesterday afternoon we had a short walk around Ranby and were delighted to watch a greater spotted woodpecker:
It entertained us for a while as we watched it climbing the trees and drumming for insects.
Winter can be a difficult time for many people, and the dark evenings make taking photographs more challenging without sophisticated equipment, but it’s still worth getting out and and about and seeing what you can find. The birds don’t usually disappoint us!
As promised, this week, we’re bringing you our favourite birding moments of the year. As our regular readers will know, this has been a difficult year for us with Lee having a heart attack and major surgery – he was out of action for a while.
However, we’ve still managed to capture some amazing moments – often a surprise in an unexpected place, or something we were looking for and found, and which exceeded our expectations.
Some of our best spots have been very local, which has made them all the more special. Examples of this are the redwings we found down the river just a few yards from where we live.
It was also special to find goosanders on the local canal:
Lee was delighted to capture these rather beautiful bullfinches in our local park on one of his walks into town this week:
These striking birds are fairly common, but it’s always exciting to see them, especially so close to home.
Another favourite time for us was when we took a holiday at Barmston Beach on the East Yorkshire coast at Easter. We experienced sand martins flying over our heads on the beach every day.
We also had a trip to RSPB Bempton Cliffs and saw some amazing seabirds such as guillemots, razorbills, gannets and puffins.
We really enjoyed it and are looking forward to visiting again in 2018.
One of our first outings after Lee’s operation was to Harewood House in search of red kites. They did not disappoint, and it was certainly a spectacle to experience them soaring over our heads.
Another special time was when we spotted a great spotted woodpecker feeding its chick at the nest on a walk down the local canal. We stopped and watched it feeding for quite a while – this was the first time we’d watched a woodpecker chick being fed.
On our birding outings, we often stop to talk to people, who are sometimes interested in what we’re looking at. At one of our regular spots, we got talking to a lovely lady and her husband who lived in the village where we often go bird spotting. To their and our delight, they had spotted flycatchers nesting in their garden, and they invited us in to sit and watch them from a safe distance. They raised two broods this summer, and this was such a privilege to watch. We also made some lovely new friends!
I have to mention the bee eaters that nested in Nottinghamshire this year, although obviously it was regrettable that Lee was in hospital at the time and didn’t get to see them. Unfortunately they weren’t successful in raising young, but hopefully they will return in 2018.
Probably our best birding moment this year was the cuckoos, which sat on the grass in front of us! We’d been looking for them for ages, and they showed up and posed for photographs. What an honour!
This may only be topped by hearing a nightingale at Whisby on May Bank Holiday. Unfortunately we didn’t get a photo, but the sound was the most exquisite thing we’ve ever heard. To stand just a few feet away listening was truly awesome – it literally stopped us in our tracks!
So, as we end this year, there’s been a lot of good things to look back on despite the difficulties we’ve had. We look forward to sharing more exciting birding moments with you in 2018. Thanks for reading, and we wish you a Happy New Year!
As promised, this week we’re focusing on the nation’s favourite bird: the robin. These familiar birds can be seen all year round, and we’ve spotted them everywhere from gardens and car parks to woodlands and riverside locations.
One of the reasons we love them so much could be that they are very friendly and can sometimes become tame enough to take food from your hand. My mum has one who waits outside her kitchen door every morning for the mealworms she puts out for them.
Robins have a beautiful song and continue singing all year round. They will even sing at night if they have light from the street!
Robins are fiercely territorial and sing to defend their space for food and breeding. They will fight to the death if another bird challenges their area – so if you see two together they could well be a pair. The baby birds don’t have red breasts, but as soon as they develop them they will need to find their own territory.
So why do we associate robins with Christmas if they’re here all year? The red breast of the robin was similar to the red tunics which Victorian postmen used to wear and which gave them the nickname “robins”. Christmas cards grew in popularity around this time, and robins were pictured on cards to represent the postmen who delivered them.
If you look closely at the robin’s red breast, you will see that it is orange rather than red. So why do we call them redbreasts? This could be due to the fact that, until the 16th century, there was no English word for orange and anything orange was referred to as red.
Hope you’ve enjoyed our robin pictures! We’d like to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! See you next week with a countdown of our favourite birding moments of 2017.
(Robin Christmas facts courtesy of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust magazine “Wildlife Yorkshire” Winter 2017).