Saturday, 29 November 2008

Cabbage Patch

A plan to visit Thanet (which seemed to be the centre of birding interest this week) sounded fine in the pub last night, but the reality of trying to find elusive little brown birds in the murk and drizzle of a cabbage patch was starkly different.
There was a reasonable amount of birdlife around - Stonechats, Wrens and Meadow Pipits all perched on the tops of cabbages and three Chiffchaffs were seen, but the target Dartford Warblers were not showing.

Further along the coast, a single Snow Bunting was on the path above Botany Bay (in precisely the same place that I saw my first one, a few years ago) and a female Black Redstart was below on the beach.
The tide came in on cue, with the usual cast of waders including an impressive 47 Purple Sandpipers.
41 of the Purps were on one lump of concrete below the waterworks, sharing it with a Shag which we didn't notice until it flew. Yes, I know Shags are bigger than sandpipers, but it was camouflaged.
Fulmars are back after their Autumn trip out to sea, and are occupying likely nest sites on the cliffs.
My eye was caught by a line of flints on one of the low cliffs - not the pebbly type, but sharp chunks. A skulking bird that disappeared into a bush could have been a Dartford Warbler. Perhaps.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Stumpy's Back!

A cold brisk north-westerly today, promising some surprises on the sea.
Hello, who's this in my favourite seawatching spot? I drew back to avoid scaring the bird off, then reached out my arm with the camera to take some speculative shots - it remained unperturbed, so I slunk off, relinquishing my post.
A flock of Black-Headed Gulls loafed around on the surf, waiting for any tidbits to be washed up, while a stream of Great Black-Backed Gulls floated north into the wind. But apart from a Red-Throated Diver and some Brent Geese also flying north, there was little else to see.

Later, I went to check out the newly-renovated sea-watching hide at the end of Deal pier (they call it a cafe, but what do they know?)
Impressive design, and nicely full of punters - and the usual sea-watching corner, where we lurked out of the wind by the disabled toilet, has also been improved. Seating, no less!
And yes, Stumpy the Turnstone is back, for the umpteenth year in succession, still feeding off the anglers' rubbish.
A bit unsteady on the one leg, but it gets by.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Sparrow numbers 'plummet by 68%'

In a report issued by the RSPB reported on the BBC site today, the plummeting numbers of House Sparrows has been confirmed.
To help them, it suggests that gardeners can help by "being lazy, doing nothing and allowing the garden to be a little bit scruffy". Hey, I'm doing my best.

It may be, of course, that they have emigrated to Canada and the USA.

On the RSPB site itself, there is a hint that mixing nuts with chilli powder keeps squirrels away.

This might have this effect.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Blackstart and Suet recipe

The only thing worth reporting is the refinding of the male Black Redstart at the undercliff, in the murk of an early morning. Lovely bird though - beautiful plumage.
As we prepare for the end of the week's cold blast, it may be timely to report a recipe for bird food, immorally stolen from the site of Julie Zickefoose. UK readers will need to substitute some of the ingredients, but if I can manage in my ham-fisted way, so can you.

Zick's Suet Dough

Melt 1 cup peanut butter
with 1 cup lard

(the microwave works great).
Wal-Mart sells lard in big green and white tubs, and yellow cornmeal in big 5 lb. bags, as well as cheap quick oats and flour. Mix dry ingredients separately:

2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 cups quick oats
1 cup flour.

Stir melted lard/peanut butter mixture into dry ingredients.

Allow to cool, and serve crumbled in an open dish. Store in jars at room temperature. Nice measuring tip: A 40 oz. jar of peanut butter holds five cups. Empty out a jar, then pack it with lard to measure five cups of that. Easier than measuring individual cups, the most onerous part of making it in bulk. Don't be tempted to guesstimate amounts, or you'll get a greasy mess.

Also of interest, there's a bird food mail-order firm that works from Sittingbourne Kent called Bird-Food Express - I haven't used them yet but they seem to have an interesting range of products.

I generally prefer to get my nuts etc from a charity shop like RSPB, but since I inadvertently spilt many of the peanuts I'd just bought on the SBBO floor, I may not be welcome there now.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Back home on the range

Ah, it's good to be back home on the range, where the weather is benign and mild. I've missed a load of rare birds (Desert Wheatear, Siberian Stonechat, Red-Flanked Bluetail and a very popular Green Heron) but they've all passed on or passed away now, leaving the regular autumn cast.
The female Kestrel was active with some prey - it appears to be a bat.
The male looked on with distain, or maybe envy.
There were two Black Redstarts (a female above, and a more elusive male), a female Stonechat, nine Curlews on the rocks and five surprisingly-early-returning Fulmars.
A lone Swallow also flew over, and - if the current weather is a guide to the rest of the winter - it may as well save its energy and stay in Britain.

Thursday, 13 November 2008


I was pleased to record 31 species in or over the garden in Kingsdown in October, and then another 11 in the backyard in Canada - and it has to be said the North American ones are generally brighter.
On the left, a Northern Cardinal - on the right, a European House Sparrow. QED.
Even the female Cardinal is reasonably colourful, for a girl. Their winter range is apparently spreading north-eastwards, helped no doubt by backyard feeders.

This an American Robin (actually a thrush).

And these are American Goldfinches.

The Blue Jay needs little introduction, and no second invitation to scoff sunflower seeds on the deck - up to eight were seen at a time.
A Hairy Woodpecker.

And finally an endearing, trusting Black-Capped Chickadee-dee-dee. Canada's a great place for birds - I hope to return soon.

More pics from Canada are shown on

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Bay of Fundy - late fall

In the fall, thousands - maybe millions - of waders funnel down the Bay of Fundy on their way south, with many staying to feed. Apparently. Presumably in early fall.

Because when we visited, there were just a few Sanderlings and things, which in some ways was a relief as North American waders are a nightmare to identify.

The trip was, however, worthwhile as it passed through the Acadian country which is good for raptors, including Bald Eagles. There were also plenty of Red-Tailed Hawks, helpfully showing themselves on wires and posts before languidly flapping away, exposing their distinguishing parts.

At the roadside, two Ravens displayed, bouncing around on the grass together.

New World Rodents

Canada is well served with rodents, and we saw a few on the trip. Beaver lodges were frequently seen, and we even got a few glimpses of some of the owners.
The most common rodents are, however, the squirrels, three varieties of which can be seen in Ottawa.
The red squirrels hold their own against the other two - the usual grey and a black form, which is particularly numerous around Ottawa for some reason.

I recently read, by the way, an article in the Observer about a group of people in Northumberland who were fighting the invasive Grey Squirrel with traps and guns, with considerable success. Perhaps one of the northerners could tell us if the greys are prevalent in their areas?
A chipmunk scolded us as we passed by, with a loud chip-chip....impressive considering it had its pouches full of food.

I don't think that Raccoons are rodents, but this one deserves to be seen because of its impressive size, gained by raiding a cat sanctuary. It would make a good hat.