Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Not just another day out birding

This is my first blog since the middle of April. This is mainly due to my working life being turned upside down. It is very difficult to get motivated to write the events of a day when your mind needs to focus on other priorities. But slowly things are improving and life as a freelancer does have a few advantages. An example of this my lunchtimes now consist of a walk around a small pocket of Epping Forest photographing butterflies and dragonflies. In the past it would have been a stressed dash to an overpriced sandwich shop along with a million others and straight back to my desk. (I will save the advantages of not commenting for another day as that’s a blog on its own!)

So now I have that out of the way, let’s get on with the business as usual.

When you volunteer for the Lee Valley Park, what that really means is you are actually volunteering to experience many amazing things and events. From a ticket to the Bird Fair to organised trips around bird reserves such as Frampton Marshes. More importantly, it presents you with great people who can plan and organise days that live with you forever*. (*This might turn out to be a slight exaggeration as it only happened yesterday but I doubt it.)

A massive thanks has to go to Jo Gildersleeve for giving me and our other partner in crime, Brenda, the chance to experience the close handling of birds during a bird-ringing session given by Paul Roper, one of the top bird-ringers in the country.

We arrived at Paul’s place on a farm in Hertfordshire around 7.15am. Paul and his trainees had already been ringing birds since 5.30am. Hardcore. They had just come back from the three sites for the mist nets and had a few drawstring pouches with birds inside. The birds go through a systematic data procedure where age, sex, weight, wing measurements etc are all noted down and a ring attached with a unique code. It’s incredible to see how calm most of the birds are during this process. We had the easy bit of photographing the birds in the hand before they were released.



Common Treecreeper underwing

Common Treecreeper

Common Treecreeper


Marsh Tit

Mist nets

To be fair, I thought we would be there for a couple of hours but we were given bacon butties and lovely cups of tea as well as opportunities to go around with the guys on the farm to see where the nets were. On our first walk round, Paul pointed out a pair of Spotted Flycatchers that were nesting on the farm. I love these little birds and we were unlucky not to see them at close quarters as they were netted early on and released before we arrived.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

As if this wasn’t all good enough, Paul had also set his moth trap the night before and we were treated to an array of wonderful moths and for the most part, allowed us to take photographs although one or two saw their chance of freedom as exactly that and they took it. Nevertheless we still had some that were more than happy to hang around in the heat of the day.

Blood Vein

Buff Tip

White Satin

White Satin
Paul then announced that he had found a Spotted Flycatcher nest and we could have a look as he checked on the chicks. Brilliant.

Spotted Flycatcher nest

Spotted Flycatcher chick
Above our heads, up to 12 Common Buzzards and one or two Red Kites circled and soaring on the rising thermals of what was becoming a very hot day.

Red Kite

Common Buzzard

The mist nets were checked every 30 minutes or so and each tour brought back birds of one type or another. All this is thirsty work and when it was over, tea and cake was generously passed around and eagerly consumed.

Yummy cake!

Shabby chic
This was a brilliant morning and way above and beyond anything I had imagined. It really makes me want to explore the idea of becoming a ringer at some point in the near future.

We thanked everyone for a special morning, in particular Paul and Lorraine who were fantastic hosts and we made our way north to Paxton Pits for an afternoon of birdwatching and photography.

We arrived at Paxton Pits and got ready to walk the Heron Trail. It was now that near disaster stuck me. Having sorted out my camera bag and fixed the macro lens, I failed to properly close the bag and my 500mm lens tipped it’s hat to gravity and disembarked the bag with a thud onto the gravel car park floor. This is not good and not to be recommended. The lens seemed to be fine though but it was a nervy few minutes as I tested the kit to make sure. Worked fine. Thank you God.

There were masses of Blue Damselflies and a few chasers to tease us as we set off. I spotted a small butterfly in the low scrub and at first thought it was a small Heath but on closer inspection it turned out to be a Brown Argus – a species I hadn’t seen before but was hoping to see this year. It wasn’t alone and a pair gave us the run around for a while but eventually we all managed some open wing shots of this little beauty.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus

Common Blue Damselfly

Common Blue Damselfly
Birds were few and far between with the lakes giving us Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Grey Heron and Common Terns.

Common Tern
We saw loads of Brown Hawkers but none of them took a rest on a low branch although we all hoped one would! We then found a Yellowhammer on a wire by the active gravel pit but I was unable to get a shot. We saw lots of Gatekeepers, Small Whites and a few Meadow Brown and Peacock butterflies.

Just a Small White

Just a couple of great friends
By now, the heat and the adrenalin of the day started to take its toll so we decided to call it a day (a great day mind you) and set off for the pub for a rather good fish supper.

On the way home, Jo gave us a the rare opportunity to see the whole of Stevenage just to add the icing to the cake. Very thoughtful. Very Jo.