I’ve done a lot of driving around the country recently – I’ve been collecting motorways. Recently I have ‘got’ M1, M4, M5, M11 and far too much of the M25 as well as glimpses of the M2, M3 and M40 – is there a prize?
When you spend a lot of time in a car you only see big birds – often raptors. I was pleased to see a buzzard perched, somewhat nonchalantly I thought, by the M25 just south of the M4 junction. It would have been almost unthinkable to see that when the M25 was built. Nearby a flock of ring-necked parakeets flew over the dense traffic – their speed easily exceeded mine. In Norfolk a ringtail hen harrier flew over the road to brighten my day. In both Berkshire and Northants I was surprised that red kites were up and flying early in the morning – I guess they were returning from their roosts.
And then there are other snatched sightings. A great-spotted woodpecker called and sparkled in the sunshine outside the Holiday Inn Express in Gloucester. Before talking at WWT Slimbridge I snatched 10 minutes looking at 250+ Bewick’s swans from Siberia on the Rushy Pool. Whilst waiting for the first race at Cheltenham I saw my first house sparrows at the racecourse for many years – and there were lots – maybe the cold weather had pushed them to the gardens next to the racecourse but I was very pleased to see them. I did a short interview with BBC TV in the quiet countryside near my home and glimpsed a distant barn owl just before the interview and then four waxwings flew past just afterwards – pure luck! And then there was the peregrine that flew past whilst I was WWF’s HQ in Godalming.
Back in the garden I have seen blackcaps often since their non-appearance in the BGBW and also a few reed buntings have frequented the bird feeder – I only see them very rarely in the garden.
I failed to see a mandarin duck in January, as I had intended, but I did try at Virginia Water where I have always seen them before. I’ll have another go some time soon. But I can say that I have seen a drake smew in February – actually on 1 February and very smart it looked too. At a nearby reservoir there were reports of smew and having fluked waxwing already that day I was feeling that my luck was in – so I went to have a look. A redhead was easily spotted, and then I saw another distant redhead, but it was thanks to another birder that I saw the drake smew feeding in the vegetation at the back of the pool. A very smart bird.
All in all I feel as though I’ve fitted in a lot of birds around ‘real life’ but I guess that’s the point. If you are tuned in to birds then you will always see them and hear them wherever you are and they will bring you pleasure as they remind you of the natural world around us.
On a more structured bit of birding I had a quick walk around Stanwick Lakes on a cold day at the weekend. The strong wind hastened my walk by pushing me faster from behind and motivating me to walk quicker when it was in my face. It was clearly a winter day as the air was full of wigeon, teal and lapwing. A single male pintail flew around too. There were redwings in the hedges and the only birds singing were great tits and robins – both known to be bonkers enough to sing in almost any conditions.
But it’s only 6 weeks, or less, before I’ll be looking for sand martins and expecting to hear singing chiffchaffs. And I had a look at the BTO cuckoo tracking page and wondered whether Welsh cuckoo David, currently (when I wrote this) on the border of the Central African Republic and Cameroon, was already heading our way.