Saturday, 25 January 2014

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Weekend

January 25th-26th 2014, time for the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch; the world's biggest wildlife survey which everyone can take part in! The survey has been running since 1979 and asks members of the public to count the birds they see in their garden for just one hour, during the weekend, to help the conservation charity chart the trend in increasing and declining bird populations. 

To find out more and to take part pop onto or drop into your nearest RSPB reserve this weekend to pick up a leaflet. You can even join the conversation on Twitter with #birdwatch. You don't need to be a bird expert to take part, all the help and advice on attracting birds and identifying them is available on the website and if you don't have a garden you can do the count in a local park or green space too!

I took part by doing a birdwatch in my own garden this morning, when I suddenly spotted a flock of hungry birds nipping in for their breakfast. 
Whilst counting portly Pigeons and acrobatic Blue Tits, I was listening to BBC Sussex radio station, where Mark Carter was presenting his Saturday Breakfast show. 
Earlier this week Mark Carter, and sports presenter John Lees, visited RSPB reserve Pulborough Brooks (West Sussex) to try out the fantastic food in the cafe (namely Bacon Pudding) and chat about the Big Garden Birdwatch, for this weekend's show. 
When not writing or sharing photos on this blog, I work at the reserve (as Visitor Services Trainee, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund) and took a few minutes out to chat to John and Mark about the big event. 
You can listen again to the show at: . (I appear at approx 2hr42min through, near the end of the program.) 

Whilst your listening to the show, here are some photos from my Big Garden Birdwatch!
Note: apologies for the lower quality, photos were taken through (slightly grubby) window!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Photographic Memories from 2013

During 2013 I found myself spending a significant amount of time on trains and in unfamiliar places as a result of travelling for training courses as part of my current job. 
Throughout my travels my trusty iPhone and pocket digital camera were my constant companions capturing moments of light and reflections, an antidote to the spirit-grinding noise and stuffy air of commuter-filled trains and unknown cities.
This is a selection of the photos taken during those whirlwind days of Summer and Autumn 2013. 

Spectacular Wales

Snowdonian Shadows

London sun-glare

Leafy streets of London

Heading home, London Black-friars Station 

Good Morning Bedford

Bedford Waters

 Summer Sunshine


 Bedford River

Bedfordshire skies

Home, Heaven

Monday, 6 January 2014

Bird Race: the definitive list

For all those of you out there who are interested in the details, here is the list of all 76 species seen on today's Bird Race.

1.     Black Headed Gull
2.     Cormorant
3.     Carrion Crow
4.     Robin
5.     Wood Pigeon
6.     Mallard
7.     Little Grebe
8.     Lapwing
9.     Wigeon
10. Moorhen
11. Jackdaw
12. Canada Goose
13. Little Egret
14. Mute Swan
15. Teal
16. Redshank
17. Starling
18. Curlew
19. Coot
20. Grey Heron
21. Magpie
22. Shelduck
23. Brent
24. Kestrel
25. Herring Gull
26. Rook
27. Pheasant
28. Blue Tit
29. Great Tit
30. Chaffinch
31. Shoveler
32. Ruddy Shelduck
33. Collard Dove
34. Great Black Backed Gull
35. Feral Pigeon
36. Blackbird
37. Goldfinch
38. Great Spotted Woodpecker
39. Oystercatcher
40. Grey Plover
41. Turnstone
42. Dunlin
43. Ringed Plover
44. Merganser
45. Peregrine
46. Long Tailed Tit
47. Treecreeper
48. Slavonian Grebe
49. Knot
50. Long Tailed Duck
51. Golden Plover
52. Dunnock
53. Greenfinch
54. Stock Dove
55. Great Crested Grebe
56. Tufted Duck
57. Gadwall
58. Common Gull
59. Pochard
60. Red Legged Partridge
61. Little Owl
62. Buzzard
63. Goldcrest
64. Bullfinch
65. Egyptian Goose
66. Green Woodpeckers
67. Goosander
68. Siskin
69. Nuthatch
70. House Sparrow
71. Redwing
72. Meadow Pipit
73. Sparrow Hawk
74. Pied Wagtail
75. Pintail
76. Fieldfare

Out for a Duck

Each year, during the first two weeks of January, birdwatchers in Sussex gather to take part in an annual sport; The New Year Bird Race. The aim is to see as many species of British wild bird, within the county of Sussex, within 24 hours. A good excuse for a fun day out birdwatching, a bit of friendly competition, and to raise some money (through sponsor ship) for the Sussex Ornithological Society. Last year a new team joined the seasonal sport; The Midhurst Martlets, and as the calendar ticked over to 2014 the four team members gathered themselves from mince pie and wine festive slumbers and set a date of January 6th. 

Throughout Christmas and New year violent storms racked the country, with gale force winds ripping and roaring, iron rain lashing from leaden skies, and swelling seething floods. January 6th, 6.30am, darkness cloaked the world beyond the window yet the steady clattering of yet another band of rain sounded all too familiar. By 7am however, as the final members of the team joined the others in the car with the days designated driver at the wheel, the rain had stopped and the sky was growing faintly, but promisingly, lighter to the east. The journey south across the South Downs towards the coast grew gradually brighter and from the car windows we spotted not only Black Headed Gull, Carrion Crow and Cormorant, but rare blue sky as well! 

Our first stop was Pagham North Wall, overlooking harbour mud flats and reed-edged lagoons. Ducks, Waders and Geese were busily feeding here at low tide, or hunkered low out of the vicious wind. 
Despite the gale roaring and whistling through the legs of our telescope tripods we left the North Wall with a total of 25 species.
A quick comfort break at Sidlesham Visitors centre (RSPB Pagham Harbour)  produced a few small birds and Pheasant at the bird feeders, and my favourite duck the Shoveller alongside the recently resident pair of Ruddy Shelduck.
It was time in our plan for seawatching at Selsey Bill. The wind again proved our adversary and we soon found why we were the only birdwatchers that seemed visible on the bill that morning. Our total when we left the seafront with its churning waves had risen to just 35 species. 
Our second option for seawatching was Church Norton, and after the disappointment of Selsey Bill we decided to give it a go. A few waders not seen at North Wall were a pleasing addition to the list in the harbour, as were some small birds, including Treecreeper in the trees and hedgerows. Out on the sea, with our tripod feet wedged securely in the pebbles, Long Tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe alternately appeared and disappeared in the swell. 

It was time to head inland, but not before a last minuet decision to stop at Ivy Lake near Chichester provided good views of Tufted Duck, Pochard, Great Crested Grebe and Gadwall and brought us to a total of 59.
The tree tops at West Dean Woods tossed in the wind. A party of Red Legged Partridges strutted like clockwork toys along the road. Our 61st bird, and 'bird of the day' was a Little Owl, well known amongst local birdwatchers, but one I had had a run of bad luck in attempting to see which I was relieved had at last broken. 
Even a lunch break was interrupted by birds, as two male Bullfinches were spotted in the top of nearby Ash trees. 
Lakes provided our next birds, with Egyptian geese at Benbow Pond, and Goosander on the lake at Petworth Park, where we also found a carnival of Siskin in Alder tree tops. 
Despite our best attempts we were still missing several common species. It was time to head to our last, and reliable, stop at Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve. Significant flooding of a level rarely seen in the valley hampered our progress however and we searched hard for another 8 species before the sun set dramatically on the horizon. A Sparrowhawk was a pleasing final bird, despite its determination to spook the Redwing flocks and (nearly) foil our attempt to track down a Fieldfare amongst the smaller thrushes. 

We retreated to the car as dusk fell, to tot up the day's score and celebrate with tea from thermos flasks and mince pies. 

We headed home vaguely hoping for a hungry owl hunting the roadside, but with a final total of 76 species, lower than last years (beginners luck) 93, but considering the raging gales and deep floods, not too unsatisfactory. 

The New Year Bird Race is a fundraising effort for the Sussex Ornithological Society ( If you wish to sponsor me/donate please feel free to leave a comment, or contact me via my twitter @SophiEcoWild, or SophiEco Wild Facebook Page. Thank you!