Tuesday, 26 October 2010

I Turned into a Twitcher and Bagged a Juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs!

When I started this blog I made a point of saying I was not a birder and that I just love Nature and beauty in all its forms. Somehow though, somewhere along the line, it gradually happened! I think that someone who breathes, sleeps and (sometimes, quite literally) dreams birds has to eventually admit that they are indeed a birder and after all, I have watched birds since I was a child, even writing a book on birds for a school project at the age of twelve. However, I have never considered myself to be a twitcher. A twitcher, as we know is someone who will travel long distances, sometimes from one end of the country to the other in pursuit of a rare bird which has been sighted and whose location has been transmitted on the bush telegraph to fellow enthusiasts who then proceed to converge on said bird to add another tick to their list.

I would find no pleasure in dashing all around the country just to add a bird to my list and in fact I think there is no greater pleasure than spotting a bird in one's own garden which has never been seen there previously. However, when I hear there has been an unusual bird seen within twenty five or so miles of my home, I have to admit to being tempted to go and take a look, purely because it is a bird I have not seen before and hopefully to get a photo of it.

So when I heard there had been a juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) at Port Meadow Oxford for the last week or so, I thought it was worth turning into a twitcher for the day and giving it a try. Of course regular blog visitors who remember my failed attempts, this year and last, to see the Lesser Scaup at Draycote Water (a slight case of twitching there too I suppose!), will not be surprised to read I had no confidence at all in my ability to actually find the bird, even if it was still there!

Imagine my surprise then, when after leaving the car in the free car park, we walked into the meadow and towards the flooded area and within moments spotted it! The only snag was that the sun was in the wrong place for decent photos but I had a try (how could I not?) and below are the best I could manage.

Not being overly familiar with waders and completely unfamiliar with this particular one, I was a little worried as to whether I had found the 'right' bird, however...

When we first arrived there was just one other person taking photos and as we approached he packed up his gear and left. I had also noticed a small group of people on the opposite side of the flooded area and when I finished taking my photos I turned round and found the group had walked round to the side we were on and had their binoculars, scopes and cameras all focused on 'my' bird. So, in slight fear and trepidation of showing my ignorance, I asked if I had the right bird and was told it was indeed and one of the party said he had even seen one before, up in Scotland!

It was a shame I was always shooting into the sun as the photos don't adequately show the beautiful deep yellow which gives this lovely wader its name. I think the one at the top of the post gets closest.

Outside the breeding season Lesser Yellowlegs forage in shallow water, picking at prey on or just below the water's surface. They scythe their bills back and forth in the water stirring up prey like an Avocet.

This visitor from North America bobs the front half of its body up and down and the most common sound which may be heard is a two-note flight call. During the breeding season, insects make up the majority of the Lesser Yellowlegs diet. The rest of the year, they also eat small fish and crustaceans.

Well that is it for now, I hope I haven't bored you too much by focusing on just one bird and thank you for indulging my excitement. I rather enjoyed 'turning twitcher ' for a day but now I will go back to being a birder...until the next time I hear of an unusual sighting not too far from me :) Enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Not Quite Beside the Seaside!

Another visit to Draycote didn't reveal the hoped for Lesser Scaup but was nevertheless an enjoyable afternoon out in a place which I love. As I have mentioned before, living just about as far from the coast as it is possible to be in this country, it is the nearest thing to being at the seaside that there is for me. Sometimes the water is a beautiful blue but the photo below shows that when there is not much sun it can look very grey!

There are usually lots of gulls which add to the feeling of being by the sea and on this occasion the Black-headed Gulls were swooping and swirling and showing off their aerial acrobatics quite close to me.

Black-headed Gull

'Away on the winds we plume our wings,
And soar, the freest of all free things:
Oh! the Sea-Gull leads a merry life
In the glassy calm or tempest strife.'
(Eliza Cook)

I had to look carefully at each Tufted Duck I saw (and there were a lot of them!) just in case it was the similar looking Lesser Scaup...but of course it never was!

Tufted Duck

I scrambled down the bank on the opposite side of the water to get a closer look at some fungi which I had spotted through the binoculars while scanning the grass for a Green Woodpecker which I had seen there before. It turned out to be the impressive looking Shaggy Inkcap. This first photo shows it in its immature state

Shaggy Inkcap

and this one in maturity.

'There 's a thing that grows by the fainting flower,
And springs in the shade of the lady's bower;
The lily shrinks, and the rose turns pale,
When they feel its breath in the summer gale,
And the tulip curls its leaves in pride,
And the blue-eyed violet starts aside ;
But the lily may flaunt, and the tulip stare,
For what does the honest toadstool care ? '
(Oliver Wendell Holmes)

There are also always plenty of Rabbits to be seen among the grass, many of which I suspect, provide a tasty meal for predators such as raptors and foxes.


Back to the water and another bird I see there often is the elegant Great Crested Grebe.

Great Crested Grebe

I also quite often see the delightful little Teal there. For some unknown reason I always seem to see the hen (female). It is surprising how small they are, one of the smallest dabbling ducks there is, I believe.

Teal Duck

Draycote wouldn't be Draycote without Pied Wagtails flitting about. Even if you are not quick enough to see them properly there is no mistaking their call and swift, undulating flight. I think both of the following may be juveniles.

Pied Wagtail

The colours of this Guelder Rose were glowing beautifully in the afternoon sunshine.

Guelder Rose

Apparently the fruit of the Guelder Rose is edible in small quantities but is 'very mildly toxic' and if eaten in large quantities could cause vomiting or diarrhoea...hmm! I don't think I'll bother :)

I was really pleased to see a Wheatear again. Like the wagtails it seems to enjoy hunting on the rocks at Draycote for insects, I do think it is a lovely little bird. It is a passage migrant which will be preparing for the long and hazardous journey to central Africa.


'Away! away! thou summer bird !
For autumn's moaning voice is heard,
In cadence wild, and deepening swell,
Of winter's stern approach to tell. '
(Sir Bevis of Hampton)

Every time I see Teasels I hope to see Goldfinches feeding on them and although I have seen Goldfinches at Draycote even, strangely on the rocks, I have never seen one anywhere on Teasels apart from in photos. However, I thought this one looked nice decorated with webs and even a little spider.


Finally, at the end of the walk, I saw this Cormorant far out in the middle of the water, maintaining its lonely vigil as the last rays of the setting sun cast a coppery glow over the water.


'Yet not to all was sleep's kind angel sent,
A pale worn form in lonely vigil bent.'
(Nicholas Michell)

Enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Dabbling with Waders

Thank you so much to everyone who has enquired and sent good wishes concerning my husband's health. He returned home after spending five nights in hospital and is much better than he was although the doctor says he is still very unwell but going in the right direction. When he is well enough he will have to have surgery which we hope will be before the end of this year or possibly at the beginning of next year.

To me this year, Summer seemed no more than the blink of an eye and already we seem to be in the grip of Autumn.

'Radiant joy is everywhere.
Spirits in tune to the spicy air,
Thrill in the glory of each day.
Life's worth living when we say, October!'
(Joseph Pullman Porter)

The following photos were taken at Draycote just before my husband's unexpected admission to hospital.

I had heard there had been quite an influx of waders there and as you probably know I am not good on waders/water birds so I hope my IDs are correct. The first one, the Lapwing, I know is correct. A member of the plover family, it is also known as the Peewit which describes its display call. A very attractive bird I think, which is disturbingly on the red list of threatened species due to modern day farming practices!


I had heard there was a Curlew Sandpiper there and as I had never seen one I was hoping I would be lucky but I know from experience that it is one thing knowing a particular bird has been seen at Draycote but quite another to actually find it myself! I hope that the two photos below are of the Curlew Sandpiper, they were taken at the time I know it was there and look to me like photos I have seen of it.

Curlew Sandpiper (above and below)

A little duck I often see at Draycote is the Teal, a small but attractive dabbling duck.

Teal Duck

Another duck I see there frequently is the delightful Tufted Duck, a diving duck which I know is a favourite of Warren's...or would be if he ever saw one :)

Tufted Ducks (with Mallard)

'The water-birds with shrill discordant scream
Oft rouse the peasant from his tranquil dream.'
(John Leyden)

Talking of the Tufted Duck, the rather similar but much more unusual Lesser Scaup has put in an appearance at Draycote again, needless to say, as in the past, it has so far eluded me :(

I saw quite a few Ringed Plovers. I think they were Ringed and not Little Ringed?

Ringed Plover (above and below)

I saw an abundance of Autumn fruits in the hedgerows.

Hawthorn Berries

'The thorns and briars, vermilion-hue,
Now full of hips and haws are seen;
If village-prophecies be true,
They prove that winter will be keen.'
(John Clare)

Rose Hips


'October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came-
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.'
(George Cooper)

As I mentioned last year, there is a type of algae which affects parts of Draycote Water which gives a strange turquoise blue hue to the water, this effect is particularly noticeable in the following photo.

Black-headed Gull

Just for fun, I want you to see how difficult it was for me to spot the waders in the part of the reservoir where they were. The following uncropped photo shows that not only were they some distance away but also just how well camouflaged they were. It was very, very difficult to distinguish between rocks and birds!

If you look carefully you will see there is a Ringed Plover in there!

I have seen this species at Draycote before so am (fairly) confident the two following photos are Dunlin.

Dunlin (above and below)

There were lots of Cormorants but all too far away for a decent photo.


Finally, I think (and hope) I have the next ID correct. There was definitely a Ruff present on the day I was there so I think the final two photos are it.

Ruff (above and below)

Well that is all for now and as long as there are no more dramas my next post will not take as long to appear as this one has. Until then, enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.