Tag Archives: yellowhammer

A Day of Dabchicks

We went to Old Moor, an RSPB reserve in the Dearne Valley between Barnsley and Rotherham.I’ve never thought of this area in relation to birds before, but there are 250 acres of wetland with a variety of hides, toilets, shop, cafe and bird garden. With our new RSPB membership cards it was too good to miss.

Things got off to a shaky start when we left the cards in the car and had to walk back to the far end of the car park to get them.  After that things were pretty good and although we missed the bullfinches that are supposedly common here, we still built up a list of over 40 species from just half of the reserve.

We started with the Bird Garden, which is a piece of lawn between the back of the Visitors’ Centre and an area of woodland. It is well provided with feeding stations and natural-looking perches (including a fork handle for the traditional Robin shot). Only one bird selected the handle while we were there – a Great Tit. So much for tradition.

From there we moved on to look at the display garden and the Tree Sparrow Farm, an area of grassland and hedges with a large number of nestboxes. They claim to have a colony of 250 Tree Sparrows but only two popped by to visit, and neither of them posed for us.

I also had trouble getting a good shot of a Stock Dove as the Wood Pigeons kept chasing them.

I will show a selection of photographs rather than list everything we saw.


There were plenty of ducks about, and a selection of waders. The light started deteriorating as the afternoon drew on so I don’t have as many shots as I would like. I was lucky in getting a couple of good shots of Dabchicks (or Little Grebes if you prefer formality) that came close to the hides. One, as you can see, managed to catch a comparatively large fish (which looks like a Perch in some of the photos). The size (and spines) meant it took a long time to swallow. The video clip shows the bird after eating; I think it’s trying to clean the fish slime off.


Dabchick with fish


Good week for the birds

It’s been a good week for birds this week. Apart from the normal visitors we had a Great Spotted Woodpecker on Monday and a Jay on Thursday. The Jay was chasing a magpie, which makes me think the magpie was trying to raid the Jay’s nest. I’ve seen a buzzard and barn owl facing off before, which was quite eerie in the fading light, but never seen a Jay chase a magpie. With them being closely related it seems a bit strange, though with the Magpie being a renowned robber of nests I suppose it isn’t that unusual. What I do know is that I missed a dimension by being in the car, because it wouldn’t have been a quiet pursuit. We regularly have magpies quarrelling in our street and they are quite vocal, with jays also being well known for their calling.


OK, I confess it’s a poor photo…

We’ve had two good sightings of buzzards this week too, both standing on fence posts next to the A46 – one virtually white on the breast and the other almost all brown. I don’t know why they select the posts they do as they are usually a bit below the level of the road. I’m used to seeing them on lamp posts and telegraph poles so the fence post seems a bit unambitious. It’s strange to think that when I was growing up we had to travel to Devon or Wales to see buzzards.

Finally we saw the yellowest yellowhammer I’ve ever seen. It’s the sunlight – everything looks better in the sun.

As a last sighting for the week – driving to Hobbycraft after picking ¬†Julia up from work we saw a Common Tern flying along the canal, and actually diving to feed. It’s not rare, because they breed in the gravel pits along the Trent, but it was nice to see.

Big Farmland Bird Count – part 1

It’s been a frustrating day today, with our first crack at the Big Farmland Bird Count.

At 9.10 am I had the telescope set up on a buzzard sitting in the big tree across the field. Although we’ve often seen it go there, this was the first time it had given us such a clear view.

Of course, at 9.55 am it decided to move on, never to be seen again. After that people arrived and we were kept busy for a couple of hours before we could settle down for the count.

What had been skies full of birds abruptly emptied and we found ourselves staring out on a birdless prairie. I really don’t know how they do it. One day you can be sitting in the car waiting to go, or just looking idly out of the window and you’ll see a barn owl, a great spotted woodpecker or a charm of goldfinches, but the next (when you are deliberately looking), there’s nothing.

Well, next to nothing. We saw chaffinches, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, wood pigeons, a blue tit, a wren and a starling. I’d seen most of them yesterday when I spent an hour cleaning up in my back garden in Nottingham. The only bright spot in the half hour was when three yellowhammers turned up. You don’t see them in Nottingham.

We’ve seen some good stuff from here – a kestrel chasing a buzzard (twice), a buzzard chasing a barn owl and a sparrowhawk struggling to gain altitude with a pigeon clutched in its talons. And before you ask, no, I don’t know why they do it, apart from the sparrowhawk. Anyone who has seen me struggling home with a large pie will recognise that behaviour. What we haven’t seen is crows or rooks mobbing a sparrowhawk, which you would expect to see as we have plenty of sparrowhawks and plenty of corvids. However, when it comes down to it, we’ve probably spent less than 24 hours watching interesting birds out of the last three years, so the chances of seeing something notable are about one in a thousand.

We’re counting again on Wednesday with the full group – here’s hoping we’ll see something interesting.