A Gaggle of Goslings

I had a rare week off from blogging last week. I try to find different things to talk about each week and sometimes it just so happens that I’ve been unlucky and don’t have much wildlife to share with you. Fortunately though I’ve collected enough to be back today.

I’ve been enjoying keeping an eye on the small field that serves as the nursery area for the local canada geese. As each clutch of goslings hatch they are walked to the nursery field by their parents and all the goslings mix together.

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Last week I counted 45 goslings at one time which seems like even more than usual! By grouping together like a few adults can keep many goslings safe from predators.

I came across a brood of mallard ducklings today sheltering on the shore of the fishing lake.

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Given their size and location I think there’s a likelihood this is the same brood I spotted a few weeks ago when they are very young. There were fifteen ducklings then and were only four today- it’s entirely possible that the missing eleven ducklings were all predated. It shows how hard it is to raise young in the wild and why it’s worth having so many young if over a quarter of them are lost.

This week the first starling fledglings started to arrive in the garden. They are fun to watch as they stagger around, not quite in full control of their limbs yet, and beg their parents for food.

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I haven’t seen much of the Avon roe deer over the last month or so. I suspect that with the arrival of Spring they have more options for places to eat. I did spot several individuals yesterday though they can be difficult to see in the long grass.

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As you can imagine, when this buck had it’s head down and was eating you could barely see it at all. It’s around this time of year that roe deer start to give birth to their young so I shall be looking out for that, though I suspect the fawns will be almost invisible in this sort of foliage.

Apologies to arachnophobes but here’s a magnificent spider I found this week:

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This is a nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis). Like many spiders this species has interesting mating behaviour. Males approach potential females with a gift, a fly or other insect wrapped up ready to eat. When the female bites on the gift the male starts to mate with her. To make sure the job gets done he keeps one leg on the gift in case the female tries to escape with it or attack him. If this does happen the male will pretend to be dead (it’s called ‘thanatosis’) and will be dragged along by the leg touching the gift. When the female stops the male carries on mating.

Here’s another invertebrate I spotted recently:

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I’m not entirely confident on the ID of this one. It certainly looks like a grasshopper or cricket with that leg structure, possible a roesel’s bush cricket. It’s early in the year and this looks really small so I would hypothesise that it’s a nymph. Females are green so this is a male (assuming I’ve managed to identify the right species).

I was disturbed to see in the news recently that Theresa May and other members of the conservative party want to repeal the ban on fox hunting. When polled, 89% of the British public said they agreed with the ban. May has often stressed how she follows the public’s wishes, seeking out a Brexit deal, so it seems hypocritical for her to go against the public on this. Besides, with Brexit and the issues with healthcare and education funding fox hunting doesn’t feel like it ought to be something the government is even thinking about at present.

Baby Birds

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first young birds of 2017 and this week I finally saw some. Get ready for the cuteness!

My first young birds of the year were two of these gorgeous lapwing chicks.

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There are currently a mother and two chicks right outside one of the hides at Blashford Lakes. This one chick came right up to the edge of the hide allowing for unprecedented views and photos! As well as agricultural land lapwings nest in areas of wetland with short vegetation. The team at Blashford have been working to create this sort of habitat and it certainly appears to be working.

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Lapwings are on the RSPB’s red list, meaning there has been a severe decline of numbers in the UK, so work like this is vital to support the species.

This morning I spotted this mallard parading with her ducklings.

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If I’ve counted correctly there are 15 ducklings there. Mallards usually have clutches of 8-12 eggs so this was a particularly large one. Of course ducklings are extremely vulnerable to predators so it’s unlikely that more than a handful of these will make it to adulthood.

In other bird news, blackcaps have now arrived in the country in time for the breeding season.

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These birds migrate from Southern Europe and Northern Africa to breed in the UK in the summer. However, increasing numbers are actually staying in the UK over the winter and the RSPB suspects this is due to the good source of food put out in gardens.

Today I saw a grey wagtail on the river Avon.

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This individual is a female as it has more white on it’s head then a male would. Whilst these birds don’t migrate a such they do move from lowland streams in the winter to fast flowing rivers in the summer.

Whilst at Blashford Lakes yesterday I saw thousands of these sizeable St Mark’s Flies (Bibio marci).

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Their name comes from the fact that they usually emerge around the 25th April which is St. Mark’s Day.  Their long legs dangle underneath them as they hover and look around for females. They will only be in flight for about a week but they are important pollinators as they feed on nectar.

Another insect sighting this week was this harlequin ladybird.

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Harlequins are an invasive species and frankly they appear to be have completed their invasion around here. It’s been a good few years since I last saw a native British ladybird around my patch but I see a lot of harlequins now. They eat other ladybirds and pass diseases to them. They have now colonised most of England and are quickly spreading into Wales and Scotland.

That’s all for today but I’ll see you next week when hopefully some peregrine eggs may have hatched!

Top Birds

The results to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2017 came out this week and as always, make for interesting reading.

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This isn’t too far off for our garden, though we have considerably more starlings than house sparrows. We regularly have as many as thirty starlings descend on the garden, squawking and fighting for access to the food. It’s easy to imagine that starlings are doing well when we see that many around but numbers have decreased 79% since the first birdwatch in 1979.

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It’s also bad news for greenfinches whose numbers have fallen 59% in the same year. This is much more noticeable here as they were one of our most common birds and now we never see them at all. They have fallen victim to Trichomonosis disease which is why cleaning bird feeders is so important.

Still, at least it’s better news for other species. Since 2007 goldfinch numbers have risen 44% and robins have gone up by 24% in the same time. Both are regular visitors to our garden and I’ve particularly noticed a large number of robins in the area at the moment.

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The bushes around my patch are teeming with birds at the moment and it’s delightful. A couple of my favorites have been this pied wagtail sat on dead wood in the middle of the River Avon and the long-tailed tit hopping around the brambles nearby.

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One day this week the great crested grebe came unusually close to the shore of the fishing lake giving me a clear view of the beautiful bird.

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I’ve spotted my third butterfly species of 2017 this week, the lovely comma.

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When they close their wings commas look a lot like dead leaves and with only early growth on bushes I found it tricky to watch the two I saw. There are actually two forms of commas. This form has a darker underside so as to survive the winter in the dead leaf disguise. The other form develops directly to sexual maturity and has a lighter underside as it has no need to survive the winter.

An invertebrate I’ve seen a lot this week is the Melanostoma scalare hoverfly. You can see it here at the top of a dandelion flower.

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This species is very common, found in most of the ‘palearctic zone’ (that’s essentially Europe, Northern Asia and Northern Africa) and even as far South as Zimbabwe and New Guinea. Despite how common this species is hardly anything is known about it! It visits a large variety of flowers which suggests it’s probably an important pollinator and is thought to be a predator of small insects in leaf litter. It’s amazing that something can be so common yet we know so little about it.

Nettles are really important for insects and have just started going into flower recently. This is a red-dead nettle, an important species for many moths and is a prominent source of pollen for bees at this time of year.

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I’ve also seen white-dead nettle, which is also very good for bees. Neither of this nettles sting, hence the ‘dead’ part of their names.

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That’s all for today, see you next week!

Nesting Season

As I’d been hoping, the peregrine falcons nesting in the a clock tower in Bournemouth laid their first eggs this week. The first was laid sometime in the early hours of the 16th March.

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Then a second egg was laid at some point on the 18th March.

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Peregrines usually have a clutch of 3-4 eggs so I would expect one more egg to be laid in the coming days. The eggs should begin to hatch around about the 20th April. Getting these glimpses of the eggs was tricky as the majority of the time the mother has been sat on the eggs, keeping them warm.

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Meanwhile I’m really excited to have another nest to be able to share with you and this one is very close to home. Some Collared Doves have decided to nest on the bracket of our satellite dish!

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This is surprisingly a common place for this species to nest. Collared doves are one of the few species that benefit from living close to humans. They actually only nested in the UK for the first time in 1956 and the nest then was heavily guarded. Satellite dishes are actually decent nesting sites as they are well away from predators and if their is bird food around then there is a ready supply of food- like we have in our garden.

The position of the dish means it is very close to one of our windows which means from the right spot we can see directly into the nest.

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As you can see there are two eggs in the nest. This is the usual clutch size of collared doves and their may be as many as nine clutches in a year! They take about 14 days to hatch but I’m not totally sure when these were laid- hopefully they will hatch successfully and we will have some chicks within the next two weeks.

When I’ve been out and about this week I’ve seen lots of birds singing and displaying. The breeding season is here and as a result birds are suddenly very visible and audible. Here are a few of my favourites:

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Blue Tit
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Robin
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Little Egret (with a particularly long plume)
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Great Crested Grebe

This week I’ve noticed that the wood anemones (Anemone nemorosahave come into flower.

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For most of the year these plants are not visible- they are just ‘rhizomes’, a sort of lumpy root under the soil. In early Spring they grow out of the ground and flower from now until May. They are actually ineffective at spreading via seeds and mostly spread through their roots which is why you can get carpets of wood anemones in some woodland.

Finally, let’s end with a fungus!

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I’ve been all through my fungi book but still have no idea what this is. It looks spectacular though!

If you want more regular updates on the peregrines and collared doves then you can follow me on Twitter @dangoeswild1. You can also find the peregrine webcam here– I’ve just watched the male feed a pigeon to the female!

Deer and Daffodils

It’s been a wet start to March here in Hampshire. The lawns and fields are waterlogged and the streams are as high as they ever get. All this means it’s been really tricky to get outside and photograph wildlife. Nonetheless I’ve been out between rain showers to see what I could find.

The local daffodils are looking at their best right now. It’s often hard to work out whether some daffodils have been planted or are wild but to me it doesn’t really matter.

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Daffodils are scientifically known as narcissi, members of the narcissus genus. There are thousands of different varieties thanks how much they have been bred over the centuries. The narcissus genus developed around 24 millions years ago in the Iberian peninsula.

A less familiar flower I’ve spotted this week is the sweet or English violet (Viola odorata).

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This flowers blooms much earlier in the year than other members of the family and is often found at the edge of woods and in clearings- I found it on the edge of the path in the wooded area next to the fishing lake.

I was pleased to see two great crested grebes on the fishing lake this week.

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They didn’t show much interest in each other but as you can see they were close together. Last year I didn’t see a second grebe on the lake until May so perhaps there is a better chance of the birds breeding this year.

The lake mallards are often seen in groups of up to five in the winter but over the last few weeks they have paired off, like the couple below.

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The number of starlings in the garden has increased over the last few weeks- there is often more than twenty on the lawn or in the trees.

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They are always aggressive to each other and noisy but they are worse than ever right now. They spend so much time fighting that they hardly get to spend any time actually eating. I’ve also noticed how shiny and colourful they are looking at the moment.

In between the rain today I headed to the river Avon, where the floodplains are considerably wetter than they were a week ago. This didn’t seem to bother the mute swans though as it provided a bonus feeding opportunity.

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With few people around due to the rain, the roe deer had ventured very near the path today giving me an unprecedented clear view at two different bucks. From the antlers I think this buck is probably two years old and was with a doe which was obscured by trees.

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I also saw this older buck which is probably at least three years old.

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As you can see this buck has quite a gash on its lower neck, possibly from the rutting season. You could see it a little more clearly when it was having a clean:

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The wound looked like it had healed other than the fur and the buck seemed perfectly healthy. The roe deer are fairly shy but this one wasn’t bothered by me being so close to it at all.

 

The Ringwood Waxwing

There’s one bird that I’ve been desperate to see in recent weeks, the waxwing. A few weeks ago a whole flock appeared in Poole but they unfortunately turned up on the day my MOT was due. I went and had a look but I missed them and didn’t have time to hang around. This week though I was delighted to discover online that a single waxwing had been spotted on my patch, right here in Ringwood!

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Isn’t it stunning? This bird was found at the back of one of the churches and could be viewed easily from the public car park behind it. It was on this tree for most of the week and seemed to be enjoying eating the ornamental apples. They are more often seen in flocks but this one seemed to have got separated.

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Waxwings mostly reside in Scandinavia and Russia but visit the UK every few years in ‘irruptions’. They come here in the winter to feed as the current berry crop in their breeding grounds cannot support the population. This suggest there’s a poor berry crop this year or there was an exceptionally good one last year, allowing for a more successful breeding period.

Whilst I haven’t seen anything else as unusual this week I have spotted a couple of interesting pieces of bird behaviour. On the open fields by the River Avon I saw these two cock pheasants squaring up to each other.

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Male pheasants are very territorial, and will fight each other when necessary. They have a sharp spur on their back of their leg for such a purpose. This encounter didn’t quite go that far- maybe a little aggression was enough or they deemed a fight unnecessary so early in the year. It is interesting to note the colouring of the individual on the left here. It’s far darker than a standard pheasant and lack the usual white stripe so it’s likely to be some sort of hybrid.

Crows seem to be very active at the moment and I’ve been able to see first hand how opportunist they are. This one found what looks like a rabbit carcass, likely caught by a buzzard or a fox, and was enjoying a good meal.

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Yesterday I was walking along the Avon and was surprised to see these two crows stood in the middle of the river. The water is very shallow at this spot but it still seemed odd.

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You can clearly see here how the crow has a stone in it’s beak. I can’t really find any information on why it might be doing this but I’ve come up with a few theories. This is a spot where lots of birds like to feed, such as little egrets and a green sandpiper. That suggests that there’s lots of food here so maybe the crow is moving the stones to uncover invertebrates to eat, like a turnstone.

The other possibility is that this is some sort of gift for the other crow, a potential mate. Plenty of bird species do give seemingly random objects to potential mates and I found anecdotal evidence that crows in captivity have presented stones to humans. If anyone reading agrees on my theories or has a better idea please do let me know.

I visited Moors Valley Country Park this morning and caught a glimpse of something in a hole by the river. By the time my camera was on it, this water vole emerged.

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It then sat near it’s hole and munched on some grass.

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Water voles are the UK’s fastest declining mammal so it’s also brilliant to see one. They seem to be doing well on the Moors River with lots of holes along a long stretch of the river.

Blashford Beauties

On Friday I had a day off so I headed over to Blashford Lakes for my first visit of the year, knowing it would be fairly quiet there. I could tell it was going to be a successful visit when I got out of the car and immediately saw a redwing.

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Because it was so quiet I had plenty of opportunities to get some decent shots of some of Blashford’s waterfowl. Here’s a shoveler, a wigeon and a gadwall.

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The Woodland Hide is really busy at the moment with birds in every nook and cranny. The most common bird at the feeders on this visit were siskins but there were also lots of goldfinches around too.

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Amongst all the chaos there are a few birds you don’t see at feeders quite so often, like some long-tailed tits and a nuthatch.

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I was really pleased to see not one but two species of bird which are new to me. The first was the reed bunting.

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As the name suggests, reed buntings are normally found in wet vegetation but in Winter they do stray further afield to find food. It’s not really very far from the reedy banks of Ivy Lake to the woodland hide anyway. These buntings seemed to avoid going anywhere near the feeders themselves, instead grabbing pieces of dropped food off the floor.

The other new bird to me was the brambling. Unfortunately both individuals stayed exactly where the reflection in the window was so I ended up with an obscured photo.

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Bramblings are members of the finch family and there was a male and a female bird in the area. This male was frankly one of the most vicious small birds I have ever seen. Whilst it did pop onto the feeders as above, it was mostly found on the ground. Every time any other bird came vaguely near it this individual would chase them off which seemed like a waste of energy given just how much food was available.

Just outside the woodland hide I found these stunning scarlet elf cap fungi.

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Whilst many fungi go appear in the autumn, different species grow at different times of year- the scarlet elf cap grows in late winter and early spring. There’s debate about how edible this species is which suggests that it won’t kill you but probably isn’t very tasty. Unless you are a rodent of course as this is a handy source of food for them in winter.

Just outside the reserve I saw a welcome sign that Spring is on it’s way, a group of snowdrops.

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We may think of snowdrops as a native British flower but they aren’t! It was brought over from Europe in the early 16th century and wasn’t first recorded as naturalised until 1770. It’s a hardy little flower which can emerge through snow and it can spread in a variety of ways- from offsets of the bulbs, animals disturbing the bulbs, through floodwater and through dispersal of seeds.

Antlers in the Heather

I was optimistically hoping to show you some lovely photos of wildlife in the snow this week. Whilst much of the UK did indeed receive some snow, we barely had a flake down here on the South coast. The weather has been cold though and that has meant lots of birds visiting the garden.

As ever, the starlings are the most common visitors and are rowdily pushing each other out of the way to get to the food. Their feathers are looking particularly beautiful at the moment.

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Other regular visitors include house sparrows and collared doves. Whilst the sparrows have plenty of room to feed the much larger doves struggle sometimes.

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This year I’m taking part in the BTO’s garden birdwatch survey which involves keeping weekly records of the birds which visit the garden. As well as giving data to the BTO it will also enable to be to generate my own which should be interesting over time. For more information check out the survey website.

On the fishing lake there were a pair of goosander yesterday and I was able to see them both clearly for once- you can really see the difference between the genders here (the first is male, the second female).

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The grey wagtail was on the Avon again yesterday too, looking vividly yellow. This is a female as it has lots of white between the yellow.

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Whilst near the Avon I saw a kestrel hovering above the floodplain, trying to find prey. They are such incredible fliers that they are really tricky to photograph! At least you can tell what bird this is.

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I headed up into the New Forest today and I’d barely stepped out of the car when I finally spotted a bird I’ve been looking out for all winter- a redwing. Redwings are winter visitors and members of the thrush family. There was a whole flock in this field which is exactly what I’ve been hoping to see for months now.

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Whilst up in the forest I turned a corner and was suddenly greeted with this great sight.

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These are a group of ten fallow deer stags. They are in their darker winter coats which did make me wonder about the ID. When they eventually stood up I could see them more clearly, especially their tails which give them away.

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You can see this group is very mixed in term of age. One of the stags had only the slightest hint of antlers, a few had smaller ones and several had large sets. You can see where the deer have been rutting with the odd broken antler and one deer having a very severe limp on it’s back leg.

It’s always nice to get close to the New Forest deer and I was especially lucky today to get so close to such a large number of them.

The Feral Pigeon’s Friend

Today there was something of a surprise in the garden. A while back I discussed the feral pigeon that is a regular visitor to our garden. (See here). It was also a mystery how this feral pigeon had ended up in our suburban estate and it usually visited the garden along with woodpigeons and collared doves. I’d never seen it with another similar pigeon. Until now!

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On the left is our pigeon and next to it is a darker companion. Pigeons breed throughout the year so it seems likely that this may be it’s partner. The mystery only deepens- after nearly three years why has a second pigeon now appeared? Was it around before and not travelling to the garden? And where are these pigeons coming from? As you can see, they are both well-groomed and good-looking birds, somewhat different from their counterparts in the town centre. The plot thickens…

There was no sign of the green sandpiper on the Avon today but a grey wagtail was there in it’s spot.

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The river is very different from the woodland streams that they usually breed in but they are well known for finding all sorts of water sources in the winter.

I have noticed that this stretch of the river still has very little water in it. The stony area where this wagtail is standing is in the middle of the river and is rarely visible, especially not to the extent it is now. It shows how little rainfall we’ve had recently. I also wonder if recent work nearby to reduce flooding may have affected this stretch of the river- could this potentially be an effect which won’t go away?

I’ve been pleased to see that there is still the occasional goosander on the fishing lake. Whilst there’s not been another day with 30+ birds present there are one or two most times I walk past.

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On a recent to Blashford Lakes over Christmas I was lucky enough to see a couple of more unusual birds. Thanks to an eagle-eyed birder in the hide, I managed to see this snipe on the edge of one of the lakes.

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Somewhere in the region of 300,000 snipe join our 800,000 residents over the winter from Northern Europe. Here we are actually towards the edge of their region with few breeding pairs in the South West of England.

Another exciting spot was this water rail.

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Water rails are not hard to see due to their scarcity but due to their timidness. Not that this individual seemed to know that as it was happy to parade around in front of a growing group of birders and has been doing this regularly over the last couple of weeks. It’s found a pool in amongst some Alder trees and seems happy there.

Another highlight from that visit was watching goldfinches feeding off the dead seedheads at the edge of the lake complex. There are few public places (I imagine there’s some private gardens) where you can see this locally.

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To end, here’s a few other birds from that visit.

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Shoveler
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Grey Heron
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Cormorant

Woodland Wonders

After a short cold snap the temperature has shot up again and we are having temperatures of more than 10°C during the day, the sort of temperature we’d be expecting to find in Spring.Today I visited Blashford Lakes for my first visit in a few weeks. It’s the woodland where all the action is at the moment as the birds make use of an easy source of food.

The most common species by the feeders were goldfinches. The niger feeder was nearly empty but they didn’t seem too bothered by this and were happy with the other seeds.

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It was lovely to see lots of greenfinches too. They used to be one our most common garden birds but they seemed to have declined significantly and these days we rarely see them at all.

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As you’d expect there were a fair few blue tits and the occasional great tit around the feeders too.

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I noticed this female chaffinch on the base of the feeder which appears to have a significant eye injury- it looks like it may have lost it’s eye completely. It didn’t seem to hinder this individual though as it was feeding and flying around like all the other birds around it.

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The robin seemed to have a different feeding tactic to most of the other birds, flying onto the feeder when it was quiet, quickly grabbing a seed and then flying away. I’m not sure why they do this considering that robins are one of the braver birds around- perhaps it’s just because they don’t like to be near other birds.

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Elsewhere in the woods there were lots of blackbirds and some song thrushes rummaging through the leaf litter looking for food.

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The lakes themselves were relatively quiet. As usual they were dominated by coot and tufted ducks but I got a clear shot of a pochard too.

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On an island on one of the lakes I spotted a pair of the local Egyptian geese population- these are non-native birds but can often be seen at Blashford.

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Another non-native bird is the Great White Egret but Walter is a regular Winter visitor. He was looking as splendid as ever today. You can see the red ring on his leg which identifies him.

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An unexpected bird from today was this blurry dunlinWhilst not rare or unusual they are not a bird I’ve seen at Blashford before- they are usually found closer to the coast.

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Cormorant numbers seem to have risen somewhat since my last visit with the trees full of them and constant fly-overs.

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