Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Innocent Man

Oh crumbs! I was setting up a shortcut to my blog on Mrs Reg's desktop, when I stumbled across something rather odd. I had typed the phrase blogspot regthebirder into Google and was surprised to find a reference to Welsh songstress Duffy half way down the page.

I remembered writing about the big-lipped crooner early in the New Year and followed the link to see what it was all about. Imagine my horror on finding that I had been mistakenly identified as the photographer responsible for providing the picture in the article!

Here's the evidence:

Definitely not my handiwork!

I'm worried now. Worried that some disgruntled paparazzo is going to turn up on my door and stick his zoom lens somewhere it doesn't belong.

Anyone familiar with my blog will know that my pictures are never up to this sort of standard, so hopefully this will all blow over without any trouble. However, if Ms Duffy herself gets hold of this and finds out I was rude about her performance on Jools Holland's Hootenanny, she might come round and give me a thick lip. Maybe both of them if I'm lucky.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Long Walk Home

On Sunday morning I headed out onto the patch with the intention of adding little owl to the list. That meant a three mile walk to an oak tree somewhere round the back of the Peacock pub. This area has plenty of good species on offer. Aside from the owl, I was fairly confident I could bag two or three more patch ticks during my visit.

Things got off to a good start when a cormorant flew over the A435 - the first patch tick of the morning. A flock of long-tailed tits and a pair of jays were seen in Hill Lane, then a male chaffinch delivered its song from the top of a tree - the first that I have heard singing this year. Sadly it was a slightly half-hearted, garbled effort, as though the poor fellow was practicing for the main event in a month or two's time.

There were plenty of collared doves around too, including two on my feeders before I set off. It's tempting to make a lazy comparison between them and buses, but I shall stifle the urge.

A small flock of siskins were spotted and checked carefully for lesser redpoll, but without success. However, not long after, I spotted the latter species where Watery Lane meets Weatheroak Hill. A patch tick and a year tick, no less.

Minutes later and just a few hundred yards from the owl tree, I was passed by a group of joggers. Not a welcome sight as the little owl is a bit skittish when approached on foot, though generally unfazed when viewed from the car. I feared that the joggers may have flushed the bird and sure enough, when I reached the tree there was no sign of it. I didn't want to give up on it so I hung around the area for a bit to see if I could find any yellowhammer. No joy, which meant I had a difficult decision - turn round and go home, or continue on and return to the tree a bit later. I chose the latter and walked to Wast Hill Bridge on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

I've seen yellowhammer here before, but had no luck today. I noticed a group of ducks flying overhead and guessed they were probably mallards. Not that long ago I probably wouldn't have even bothered to check them out. Nowadays I usually do, especially when I'm on my patch. Good job too - they were goosanders! Another patch tick.

I thought I had a stock dove shortly afterwards, but I wasn't certain enough to count it, so I headed back to the owl tree. I couldn't see the owl with the naked eye, but checked carefully with the binoculars anyway. I was surprised to find myself looking straight at it. I fired off a picture, but I wasn't close enough and the light was all wrong. I've circled the owl, but you'll just have to take my word for it that that's what it is!

It's a little owl - you'll just have to trust me!

Whilst attempting to find a better angle from which to take more pictures, the owl took flight and landed in the trees on the other side of the field, flushing a sparrowhawk in the process. It was all going on! That was about the last bit of decent action for the day, however.

I discovered I had walked eight and a half miles when I got home. No wonder my legs felt like lead! Other good spots during my walk included fieldfare, redwing and rook, which was another patch tick. There were also a few counts of great spotted woodpecker and about five of common buzzard. Exhausting stuff, but very rewarding.

Birds Seen On Foot 2009: 53

Distance travelled: 25.0 miles

Wyre In The Blood

This morning I visited the Wyre Forest, which was as brilliant as ever. I took a stroll along the old railway track, spent about an hour at Lodge Hill Farm scanning the trees and bushes, then walked along Dowles Brook before heading back to the car park.

The Wyre Forest - brilliant!

There were some excellent birds on offer, the best of which were yellowhammer, bullfinch, lesser redpoll, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, marsh tit, dipper and grey wagtail. I was particularly pleased to find the marsh tit. I heard it calling initially, then located it with relative ease as it was quite active along the path leading down to Dowles Brook. The first one I have seen in the forest as it happens.


Song thrush

Lesser redpolls

Lesser redpolls

Green woodpecker

No patch birding next weekend - I'm off to Park Hall Country Park with fellow birders Richard, Kay, Max and Pete to look for long-eared owls, then Swallow Moss to see, well, whatever there is to see up there. This is a trip that has been in the planning for a while. Should be a humdinger of a day and I'll let you know how we got on in due course.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Picture This

Over-exposed, a bit coarse and a little embarrassing. No silly, not Kerry Katona - my pictures of the drake smew taken at Draycote Water last Monday. However, despite all their flaws, they are a significant improvement over my previous efforts, so I am proud to say that I have accomplished one of my first goals for the year.





Goldeneye ... and smew

I didn't spend that long at Draycote as it was a touch chilly, in the same way that Carol Vorderman is a touch annoying. However, I was there long enough to add a few year ticks to the list. Most notable were shag, goldeneye, goosander and ruddy duck.


Garden Birdwatch

This weekend saw me spend an hour watching the birds in the garden as part of the RSPB's annual survey. It was a pretty uneventful hour, but I did see nuthatch, blue tit, coal tit, great tit, blackbird, robin and dunnock. Much like last year, I didn't feel this really represented what I get in the garden on a regular basis.

Goldfinch are regular visitors to the garden, but there was no sign of them today. Chaffinches too are usually spotted at this time of year, but they haven't been around in the same sort of numbers as last year. From February onwards I often get siskins in the garden, and the flocks can sometimes carry a lesser redpoll or two. Last year I was lucky enough to get a female brambling and in July 2007 a lesser spotted woodpecker visited the peanut feeder. I'll never forget that one!

Believe it or not, I actually managed a year tick during the hour when a pair of collared doves landed in the tree behind our garden. I couldn't count them for the purposes of the survey, but it was nice to see them nonetheless.

The weather forecast isn't great for tomorrow, but I'm hoping to walk to Weatheroak to add little owl to my patch list, plus one or two other goodies if I'm lucky. Then on Monday morning, I aim to make my first trip of 2009 to the Wyre Forest, where I hope to see brambling and lesser redpoll - two species that were there in relative abundance this time last year. Other possibles include all three woodpeckers, hawfinch, marsh tit, mandarin, dipper, grey wagtail and kingfisher.

Whether I see all, some or none of these birds, a full report will follow on my return.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Out In The Fields

Can you believe that I have still not seen a collared dove this year? It's bizarre, isn't it? I normally see these birds from the kitchen window without any fuss, but here we are, eighteen days into 2009 and still no tick in the box. Don't get me wrong, I'm not losing any sleep over it and I know one will cross my path before too long, but it just seems odd. Such is birding I suppose.

I hadn't intended to go out today. I had expected it to be pretty blustery, but it turned out to be a reasonably pleasant morning and at 10:00am I decided to venture out for a quick stroll around the patch. Not a lengthy excursion today as I decided to cover my default three mile route. I felt confident, however, that I would finally get my binoculars onto streptopelia decaocto. More fool me!

Sightings of note included a pair of bullfinch in the woods that connect Tanners Green Lane and Barkers Lane, a further pair along Hill Lane and five meadow pipits in the paddocks along Wilmore Lane. The latter is a particularly good spot so close to home. I was almost disappointed that I had seen some near Earlswood Lakes a couple of weeks ago, else it would have been another patch tick. Still, musn't grumble.

So, the search for the elusive collared dove continues. At this rate, I might be ticking turtle dove before I see its more prevalent cousin!

I did have a patch tick yesterday morning when three common buzzards were over the field opposite the house. A few year ticks fell last week too. Heading over to Solihull last Monday, I decided to go down Shakespeare Drive, where a flock of waxwings has recently been putting in regular appearances. My luck was in when 11 birds were spotted opposite the dental practice.

Later that day I saw a pair of blackcaps that are regular visitors to my Dad's bird table, and I finally spotted a coal tit, another common bird that had eluded me so far this year. Both ticks coming from the comfort of a sofa and with a cup of coffee in my hand. Good work.

Birds Seen On Foot 2009: 46

Distance travelled: 16.5 miles

Draycote Water

I need to think about getting over to Draycote Water before the smew disappears. One of my goals this year is to get a decent photograph of this bird. Knowing that some of the best photographers in the Midlands have struggled to achieve this feat doesn't fill me with confidence, but it would be silly to judge my own work by their lofty standards. Anything better than last year's effort will suffice.

Rubbish picture of a smew at Draycote Water

Weather permitting, I shall be over there tomorrow. If it looks rotten, however, I may find myself at the cinema instead, so there is a contingency plan to go next Sunday with my Dad and Dave Thomas if necessary.

I wouldn't mind trying to find the red-necked grebe too. It wouldn't be a lifer, but I'm keen to see it. Trouble is, how will I tell it from the great crested grebes? Well, if it really is a redneck, I suppose it will be wearing dungarees. I wonder if it will answer to the name Cletus?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Patch It Up

In the early 1990s, it was customary to celebrate my birthday in a delightful watering hole that went by the name of Bar Nevada. There are many words I could use to describe the place, but quaint wouldn't be one of them. It was situated in Solihull town centre, but don't go looking for it, because it's not there anymore. This is probably a good thing.

Bar Nevada had a bit of a reputation for underage drinking, and it was not uncommon for the odd scuffle to break out now and then. I seem to remember there being a strange smell in the air too. Probably something to do with the funny cigarettes that the clientele tended to smoke, although I hasten to add that I did not partake in any of these shenanigans. No, I was there to drink beer and lots of it. As far as I can remember, I think I managed to do that quite well.

I think the year was 1993. The details are a little hazy, but I distinctly remember that the Castlemaine XXXX had been slipping down a treat that evening. My friend and erstwhile drinking partner, Steve, had gone absent without leave, unable for once to keep up with the surprisingly relentless pace that I had set. Occasionally I would see him appear from the assembled horde, with a jug of beer in one hand and a fag in the other, but I was otherwise alone.

All of a sudden, the dulcet tones of Elvis Presley singing I Just Can't Help Believin' cut through the air - one of my all time favourites. It's hard to explain, but somehow it felt like they were playing it just for me and I sat back and enjoyed it whilst I drained what was probably the last pint of the evening.

More by luck than judgement, Steve and I managed to hook up again at the house where he rented a room, just a stone's throw from where I lived at the time. Steve rang the local Indian takeaway and ordered us two chicken and chips, then promptly fell asleep. When the food arrived I tried to wake him, but it was like trying to platt piss - impossible!

I ate both portions of food, left a note for Steve explaining what had happened and walked home. The only thing I hadn't been able to manage was half a naan bread, which I tossed into somebody's garden. If you lived in Solihull in April 1993 and you woke up one morning to find half a naan bread on your front lawn, then I wholeheartedly apologise. It was a very foolish thing to do, but hey, it was my birthday and I was drunk.

Naan bread - don't throw it on people's lawns

Later that year, my then girlfriend Sharon [now Mrs Reg] bought me That's The Way It Is on cassette. As well as featuring I Just Can't Help Believin', there was another track called Patch It Up. Of course, this all happened way before I knew a redwing from a lapwing, but when I go birding in and around Wythall, Patch It Up always seems to be banging away inside my head.

The King

I have been out on the patch today, but as you might have already guessed from the ridiculous amount of waffling that I have just done, I didn't see an awful lot.

I managed to add sparrowhawk to the year and patch lists. I actually saw two birds this morning, or possibly the same bird twice as both sightings were within half a mile of each other. There were plenty of redwings about, but there was no sign of last week's reed buntings. Shows how quickly things can change, doesn't it?

Another addition to the patch list this weekend was fieldfare. A flock were seen on a number of occasions from the kitchen window yesterday afternoon. A few more were spotted today on my rounds. Definitely my favourite bird at the moment.

I said in my last blog entry that I was hoping to track something down that you might not expect to see on your doorstep. That bird was snipe, but the pond where I spotted some previously didn't deliver the goods today. Not to worry. I will try again when I'm next passing by.

There are still a few glaring omissions from my patch list, namely coal tit, collared dove and lapwing. I will be trying to track down these birds and more when I next venture out. Until then, here are the scores on the doors.

Birds Seen On Foot 2009: 45

Distance travelled: 11.5 miles

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Vegetable Man

As you may have guessed judging by my previous blog entry, I may well be going a bit off topic this year. Today is no exception, as I wish to talk about something that no New Year would be complete without - my infamous sprout and stilton soup. Never mind your chest, this concoction will put hairs on the palms of your hands, and is guaranteed to blow away [quite literally] even the most stubborn of cobwebs!

I knocked up a batch of this heady, green mixture on Friday, making sure that there was not only enough for my supper, but also a couple of portions for the freezer. This turned out to be a wise move when I returned from a walk of mammoth proportions around my local patch between the hours of 8:30am and 12:30pm today. Balmy it wasn't, and my brussel-based broth was just the thing to warm me up when I got in.

If anybody would like to get their hands on the clandestine formula for this seasonal pick-me-up, please drop me a line. Wait, what's that I hear? Ah, the sound of deafening silence!

Patching It Up / Episode 1

As you know, I am aiming to get 75 species on my Birds Seen On Foot List this year. With this in mind, my first foray of the month was a trip to Earlswood Lakes. Okay, not what I would traditionally call my local patch, but I did get there on foot, and how else am I going to get great crested grebe on my list?

Anyway, I set off bright and early, with my mobile phone acting as a dictaphone for my highly unprofessional field notes. To give you a flavour of these, they began something like this:

'This is Reg The Birder reporting for duty on Sunday, 4 January 2009. Weather - brass monkeys. Wind - a steady and stiff breeze, although it's to be expected after all that sprout and stilton soup, isn't it?'

I'll spare you the rest, although my audible excitement at spotting a dunnock during my outing speaks volumes about the modest start I have had to my year list. Other than a few species spotted from the house on New Year's Day and a handful more during a walk through the Lickey Hills on Friday, the birding cupboard is as bare as Old Mother Hubbard's.

A Golden Moment

Walking to the lakes produced year ticks in the shape of jay, mistle thrush, wren, song thrush and bullfinch. Best of all though was a group of four golden plover amongst a flock of about 1,000 woodpigeon opposite Earlswood station. Mega!

A cold and frozen Earlswood Lakes

The lakes themselves were relatively quiet, but a mixture of patch and year ticks were on offer. Amongst them were treecreeper, great spotted woodpecker, siskin, greenfinch, goldcrest and great crested grebe. As I left the lakes, I had another monumental patch and year tick when I spotted about a dozen meadow pipits in a field on Norton Lane. Never seen those so close to home before.

Reed All About It

There was one final surprise before I got home. I decided to take a detour along a public footpath that runs through some fields near my house. I've seen this footpath before, but never ventured down it. Not twenty paces in and I spotted a pair of reed bunting in the hedgerow. Good work! It turns out that this footpath makes its way through some absolutely first class habitat.

If ever there was a local patch within my local patch, then this is it. I must make a point of working this area during the year to see what it produces. It looks to me as though it might be a good place to go owling later in the year. I'm fit to burst with the excitement of it all!

Measuring my route on Google maps when I got back revealed that I had covered a staggering 8.2 miles. This has prompted me to keep a running total of the distance I travel on foot in 2009. Is 100 miles out of the question? Well, I guess I'll have to wait and see.

Birds Seen On Foot 2009: 43

Distance travelled: 8.2 miles

My next venture will probably see me aiming for another species that you might not expect to find on your doorstep. Stay tuned to find out more ...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)

A funny thing happened on the way back from Mrs Reg's mother's house having seen the New Year in. There we were, driving down Broad Lane when I spotted two police cars approaching in the rear view mirror, with sirens wailing and lights flashing.

I should explain at this point that it is a bit of a tradition of ours to pull crackers on New Year's Eve, and another one to wear our paper hats as we make our way home. In my mind I put two and two together and wondered if the coppers had spotted me in my natty headgear, decided that they had found a nailed-on cert drunk driver and set off in pursuit of yours truly.

Slowing down and pulling over, I was relieved to see them overtake me and speed off into the distance. As it happens, the only thing that had passed my lips all night was Vimto. I don't think it's a criminal offence to operate a motor vehicle having schlurpled the purple, though having had a glance at all the E numbers, additives and preservatives that are injected into the aforementioned beverage, perhaps it should be?

A Rude Awakening

I think it may have been the Vimto that caused me to have a nightmare about birding. I have loads of these. Usually, I've travelled the length of the country to indulge in a solid week's birding, then realise I've forgotten my optics. Last night's dream was different, however.

I was at Draycote Water with my Dad and a few of his friends. We were sitting in the cafe, and I was explaining to one of the guys how to connect a printer to his PC. Suddenly, I spotted a barn owl out of the window. I tried to get my Dad onto it, in recognition of the fact that he failed to see this bird in 2008, but he didn't seem bothered. Instead of peering through the glass to get an easy tick, he continued to nonchalantly pour tea for those that were present.

Then the penny dropped - it was the first day of the first month and I had forgotten to start my new year list! I dashed outside and started trying to identify everything I could see. An eider was quickly sorted out, although it was about twice the size of any other eider I've ever seen.

Then a few more ducks passed by. One looked a bit like a wigeon, but it wasn't. The others were white, with little black streaks down their backs. My Dad thought they were smew, but they weren't. Then I spotted a real smew a bit further along the shoreline, near a bench. Archie from Eastenders was sat on the bench. Great! Why couldn't it have been Duffy? After all, it was only a few short hours since I'd been watching her and her huge, beautiful, bee-stung lips performing on Jools Holland's Hootenanny.


Talking of which, I recently learned that the Hootenanny is recorded a week or so before Christmas! So the next time you catch this show and are watching Rowland Rivron being irreverent and generally unfunny, just remember that the whole thing is one big charade. In terms of gigantic fibs, this one is right up there with Father Christmas. What? You didn't know? Oops!

Anyway, back to Duffy. I think she was singing in Welsh last night. At least I think she was - I couldn't understand a damned word she was saying! Sorry to rain on your parade, Duffy, but I have a couple of words for you - diction and enunciation. Mercy!

Birds On The Telly

Which leads me on to the subject of birds on the telly. No, silly, not Christine Bleakley or Jasmine off Emmerdale - I'm talking about aves. What are you like?

As is customary, I spent a large part of the festive period slumped in front of the box. Amongst the programmes that I had carefully highlighted in the TV guide like some small, excited child was the festive edition of The Good Life.

Being a child of the seventies, I have fond memories of this show, but I guess this must have been the first time I have seen it since taking an interest in our feathered friends. I say that, because I have never noticed the splendid portrait of a red-backed shrike that adorns Margo's living room wall before.

Drawing A Blank

As I write this nonsense, it is 7:52am. My year list currently stands at an impressive zero birds. I did hear a carrion crow outside a short while ago, but I don't count heards. Shame really, or I could have added grasshopper warbler and golden pheasant to my 2008 list.

Whilst I have been tapping away at my keyboard, I've managed to come up with another goal for 2009 - to use a song title for each blog entry. Could be tricky, but I'll see how it goes.

Right, better go and make a start on that year list ...