Into the woods

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Coal tit and willow tit

As our readers will know, Lee has been recovering from heart surgery so we haven’t been birding in a while.  Our last attempt to visit Idle Valley on Sunday ended with him fainting and being taken back to Bassetlaw Hospital.  However, we weren’t going to give up that easily!  His medication has been adjusted so we felt pretty safe to venture out today, especially as it was a lovely sunny day.

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Blue tit and willow tit

We decided to visit one of our favourite places for the afternoon: Sherwood Forest.  Having visited several times before, we know that there are bird tables stationed around the forest, so we bought some bird seed to tempt the residents onto the tables.

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Coal tit

We didn’t want to walk too far, so we found the nearest bird table and put out our seed on the table and a post next to it, and waited for the birds.

We didn’t have to wait very long!  As you can see from the pictures, they were very obliging.

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Great tit

We saw quite a few members of the tit family, and were delighted when a willow tit (or maybe a marsh tit) or two showed up.  We witnessed a couple of stand-offs between these and the coal tits, great tits and blue tits fighting for the food.

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Great tit

Some of the birds, like this great tit above, were young ones, still getting their adult feathers.

 

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Great tit

We stood still and tried to capture the birds as they flew down onto the table and post for the food we’d put out.  As well as the birds we’ve got in the pictures, we saw a jay up close and a great spotted woodpecker, but didn’t manage to get a photo.

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Nuthatch

The nuthatch (pictured above and below) is always interesting to watch, and we saw them going up and down the tree trunks before flying onto the table.

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We spent some time watching the birds, then had a slow walk back to the cafe for a very welcome cuppa!

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Willow tit

We really enjoyed our afternoon and hope to visit there again soon!

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Idling around: the red-crested pochard

red crested pochard

Throughout the spring and early summer, we’ve been delighted to see these not-so-common ducks at Idle Valley.  We spent quite a lot of time coming here before Lee’s operation, and met these ducks every time we came: the red-crested pochard.

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The pretty colours of these ducks really caught our attention, and at first we didn’t know what they were (we’re not experts!)  So we looked them up in our bird books when we got home and found out that they were red-crested pochards.

They breed on lakes and are regular vagrants to the UK, although it is suggested that the UK breeding population is mainly from escaped birds.  However they got here, they are certainly very attractive and a pleasure to see in the locality.

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You can just about see the female on the right in the above picture.  Typically, the female is duller than the male and lacks the rusty-orange head that makes the male bird stand out.  They both have broad white wingbars, and are bigger than the pochard.

They can sometimes be seen with tufted ducks or pochards, of which we’ve seen plenty at Idle Valley.  They feed by diving, dabbling just under the surface, and up-ending.

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We feel very privileged to have these lovely ducks on our doorstep.  Next time you visit Idle Valley, have a look out for them!

 

 

Summer swallows

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Nothing says summer quite like a swallow!  So this week we want to showcase these fantastic birds while they are still here in plentiful numbers.

This year we saw our first swallows around Eaton on 8th April, in the same place where we first spotted them last year.

swallows

Going back to last year, we spotted this family of swallows taking their first flying lessons down by the River Idle.

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They were gathered in bushes and trees by the river, and every so often one would fly off and then return to the branch.

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You can see from the pictures that the young birds don’t have the bright colours or full tail like the adult shown in the first photograph.

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This amazing bird flies thousands of miles every year to join us in the summer, and many will return to the same place as the previous year.  For lots of us, they herald the arrival of spring, and their departing in late summer/early autumn can be quite sad.  They spend much of their time on the wing, but, unlike the swift, they will also perch on telegraph wires for example.

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You will often see them by water, skimming for flies and other insects as they swoop around, making a chattering noise.  They also like open fields and farmlands, and will typically nest in barns.

We love swallows, and look forward to seeing them every spring.  They are still with us for a couple of months yet, so there’s still plenty of chance to see them.

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Update on Lee: he is now home from hospital and doing well.  However, his legs are still very painful so it will be a few weeks before he can do much walking.  It’s been lovely to receive so many messages of support, especially from people we’ve met from bird spotting around the area.  Thank you!

Peek-a-boo!

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Around the end of May, Lee and I were walking down the Chesterfield canal and heard a woodpecker among the trees down one of the paths.  We stood for quite some time looking, but couldn’t see anything.  This time of the year can be quite difficult to spot birds, as the trees are very green and leafy.  However, we kept hearing its sharp ‘kik’ call over and over again.

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We didn’t give up, and kept following the call.  Eventually, we were rewarded with a fantastic sight: a young great spotted woodpecker with its head out of the hole in a tree, calling to its parent.  Amazing!  We stood watching the parent coming to feed the baby for quite some time, of course, careful not to get too close and disturb them.

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The baby was almost out of the nesting hole and one point, so we’re quite sure that it would have fledged pretty soon afterwards.

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The great spotted woodpecker is fairly common, and can sometimes be seen in gardens, particularly in rural areas.  It loves woodland, hedgerows and parks, and we have also spotted them in King’s Park.  We’ve seen them down the River Idle, and they can often be found by hearing their call or the drumming noise they make when they tap the trees.

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This was an amazing birding moment for us, one which we felt privileged to be able to watch.

In the meantime, Lee is still in hospital recovering from a quadruple heart bypass, which took place on Tuesday this week.  He’s making a good recovery and is in good spirits most of the time!  However, I’m sure he’d rather be bird watching!

Lee

Lee before his operation.

Baby blues

baby blue tit

The other day I came across these pictures, which are some of the first we took on our birding outings.

Walking beside the River Idle, near the allotments, we discovered a family of baby blue tits.  They seemed to be newly fledged and weren’t moving very far, so they let us take plenty of pictures fairly close up.

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As you can see from the pictures, the juveniles have a more yellowy hue than the adult birds, who have a blue cap, wings and tail, with yellow underparts.

They were hopping around the undergrowth, flapping their wings, probably getting ready for their first flights.

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These birds are very familiar in our gardens, and will frequently use the nest boxes we put out for them.  We’ve often sat in King’s Park and watched them going in and out of the nest boxes there.

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These birds like deciduous woodland habitats, especially oak trees.  They have also adapted well to our gardens.  They will lay up to 16 eggs, and feed their young on woodland caterpillars.

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The male and female birds are both similar.  Their call is a high pitched trill, which can be quite loud for a small bird!

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I’m sure you find these birds as adorable as we do – particularly the babies!

 

 

 

Under-rated birds

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Dunnock

While Lee is still in hospital and I haven’t had chance to get out much, I’ve been looking through some of our photographs we’ve taken over the past months.

This week I’d like to bring to you three very ordinary-looking birds, which people often don’t get excited about.  However, if you look at them closely they really are special.  The first one is the dunnock.

Often called the ‘hedge sparrow’, it is often mistaken for a sparrow, but in fact it is not.

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It is often found shuffling around on the ground, but in spring it takes to the tree tops with a beautiful song.  This is where it differs from the sparrows, as it has a lovely sweet whistling song.

The male and female birds are both similar, and the blue-grey of its head and breast and its streaky back make it quite beautiful when you get up close.

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Next time you think you have a sparrow in your garden, take a closer look – it may be a dunnock!

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House sparrow female

The once very common house sparrow is also quite pretty when you look at it closely.  Sadly, house sparrows are in decline, and it’s important to provide food and homes for them if you can.  The male and female birds are different, the male having a black bib and mask between the eye and bill, with a grey crown and chestnut sides.

 

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House sparrow female

House sparrows are closely associated with people, and are often the commonest visitors to our gardens.

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House sparrow male and female

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House sparrow males

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Tree sparrows

The tree sparrow is not as widespread as the house sparrow, and is often found in colonies.  The ones we’ve seen and photographed were at Fairburn Ings (above) and Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserves.

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Tree sparrow

It has a lovely chestnut crown, cheeks and collar, with a white neck, black bib, and a black spot on its cheeks.  Like the dunnock, the male and female birds are similar.  Its voice is a “tek tek” sound in flight, or many calls similar to the house sparrow.

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Tree sparrow

This bird is not likely to be seen in gardens, and sadly, has suffered a more dramatic decline than the house sparrow.

On first appearance, these three birds look very ordinary and quite similar to each other, but on closer inspection they are quite different and really quite delightful, especially the song of the dunnock.  Dunnocks are still singing all over the place at the moment – see if you can spot one this week!

Buzzing with excitement!

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You may have heard all the excitement recently about exotic bee eaters, which appeared in East Leake quarry, South Nottinghamshire around a week ago –  if not, you can read about them here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-40442118 .

This morning looked as if it was going to be a nice sunny day, so I asked my daughter, Myeisha, if she fancied going to see the bee eaters.

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She agreed, so we had a drive down to the south of the county in search of these rare exotic birds.

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A car park has been set up, along with viewing areas for the many visitors that have been trying to catch a glimpse of these birds, not usually seen in the UK.  According to reports, seven of them had been spotted,  so we set off down the path with excitement.

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I thought they might be quite difficult to find, but they obliged their visitors by perching on a dead branch, occasionally flying off to catch prey.

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We only saw two of them, but that was enough.  They stayed for ages around the tree, catching insects and then posing for us to take pictures.  Actually, Myeisha (13) took most of these, and even managed to catch one with a bee in its beak!

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They usually nest in South Europe, Africa or Asia, so it really was something special to see them in Nottinghamshire.  There are hopes that they will breed here, and the RSPB are doing all they can to protect them.

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One lady with a telescope allowed us to have a look through hers.  Seeing them closer revealed their amazing bright colours – fantastic!

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We were really pleased to have made the trip, and I’ve promised Lee as soon as he is fit I’ll take him there.  Let’s hope they make it their home for a while.