31st January, the full moon is much talked about and I get my field telescope, normally used for wildlife, set up and patiently guide my mobile ‘phone camera lens into position on the eye-piece. Amazingly, I get an image.
30th January, clear skies tempt the Buzzards up. A half-hearted display and a piercing call that cuts through the thin air. Snow-drops, Aconites, and the odd Primula are keen to be seen. Angela sees a Barn Owl going to and from work.
28th January, two new volunteers at our Cotton End Park work party this morning. We have a great morning in the sunshine, and hear and see Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, Wren, Chaffinch, and Kestrel, whilst repairing, digging, barrowing, pruning…
27th January, the RSPB Garden Birdwatch is done before the weather closes in but as seems usual with me, the birds turn up either side of the one hour recording period. Because I’m a birder my friends and family think I can ‘magic up’ birds and have great satisfaction in reading their species rich list to me. Well done everyone. The largest ‘citizen science’ experiment ever carried out in the UK?
24th January, photographer Jane visits Mill Park Reserve and gets some good shots of birds on the feeders there.
22nd January, the snow is gone and a Song Thrush is singing alongside a Starling on the roof. I haven’t seen any Starlings in the garden for ages but I saw 300odd with the some Redwings in the horse field at the bottom of The Leys.
20th January, Jo has 10 bird species in her garden at Syers Green. This is a critical time for feeding birds but please don’t forget to clean your bird-table and bird-feeders regularly as diseases like Trichomonosis are still present and killing birds as we speak. When did you last see a Greenfinch?
18th January, the birdwatching and photography hide at CEP is vandalised again, but this time we have some photos. I am clearing up the mess and hear a Moorhen. I open a flap and see a dog Fox sitting like a fisherman on the edge of the first pond. A Moorhen, oblivious to threat is floating a yard from it on the still water. The Fox stares but can do no more than swish his tail in frustration.
16th January, David Evans reports a Cormorant, Dean reports Goldcrest and Muntjac.
14th January, we get the digger in for some much-needed ditch maintenance at the park. We see Hare, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit, and Robin, and course get very muddy.
11th January, Alan reports 3 Goosander from the canal at The Wharf. An excellent record of a great-looking winter-visiting duck. Look them up!
10th January, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Starling are singing, and the Blue Tit is displaying. Terry points out that the Collared Dove is sitting on eggs on a nest in a tree on Market Place.
3rd January, a mixed flock of Chaffinches and Yellowhammers in and around Armley field attracts a male Merlin. In a brief 5 seconds of action, I luckily catch him approaching low over the ground and then bursting upwards amongst the scattering flock. I thought for a second it was a male Sparrowhawk but as the bird rose up I got good views of him.
(images by Jane Brennecker, Sue Ebbage and Nick Roberts)
(Thanks to Sue Ebbage for the images of birds, other than my attempt at the Peregrine, Alan Webb for the fish, and Daniel Tabor for the snow scenes.)
27th December, more snow and then floods of melt water. I walk my little field and find lots of House Sparrows and Blackbirds amongst the horse hay. A couple of Black-headed Gulls are paddling about and pull drowned worms from the water. I then discover a hole in my right Wellington.
23rd December, I open Cotton End Park. It’s cold, wet and foggy and I almost think twice about having my usual check-round walk. I should be shopping or wrapping or something Christmassy, but I set off and hear the dull distorted sounds of wet Pigeon wings flapping in the mist. A (the) male Kestrel sits on the Pylon. He is used to me and ignores me, besides he needs breakfast. A Moorhen is back on the pond. They disappeared for a while after some kids had been messing about in the Wildlife Area. I hear then see a Treecreeper, 2 Redpoll go over, and then I hear and eventually see 2 Brambling do the same. Hang on.. Brambling (Winter visiting finches, similar to our Chaffinch, from Scandinavia) is new for the park. Worth a walk after all!
20th December, several reports of Thrushes including Fieldfare, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Redwing now in peoples gardens on fruiting bushes and fallen apples. The berries in the countryside hedges have now mostly gone so these birds are having to move into the gardens. It doesn’t take long for them to take what’s available, and then they’re off to raid the next garden, but it’s a good chance to see them close up.
18th December, there are a number of fallow fields in the parish at the moment and these are proving helpful to the wintering farmland birds. Commonly now you can walk along way in the countryside and see not much at all. The birds are mainly in mixed flocks and sometimes hard to find. I was lucky this afternoon and managed to find one north of the village. Feeding together on the ground within an area of 100 square yards and adjacent to the field hedge were 30 Fieldfare, 20 Redwings, 15ish Blackbirds, 10 Yellowhammer, handfuls of Chaffinch, Goldfinch, and Greenfinch, singles of Pied wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Robin, Dunnock, Wren and Blue Tit. The latter spent more time in the hedge but stayed with the general flock as it moved along the field.
17th December, Alan and Carol see a male Blackcap in their garden at the Wharf. That’s the first wintering record so far. At CEP all is quiet in the fog. About 50 bedraggled Woodpigeons sit in an Ash, wings drooping, trying to dry out. Suddenly they all leave the tree and instead of loosely flopping off as they normally would, they group closely and swerve down then up in a shoal-like move. I stand for a second thinking that’s odd and then see a falcon raking through the air hard on their tails. The flock rises sharply and the falcon clips of the ‘corner’ bird. The flock heads away, but the lone pigeon and the falcon power over my head and up towards Sandy Lane. I am so engrossed in this five second show that I forget I’ve got my camera around my neck. I raise it just in time to get a couple of poor shots. Size wise I think it was a Peregrine, maybe a young male.
16th December, Alan sends me a photo of a chap (from the Canal & River Trust) holding a Zander, caught at The Wharf. This fish species has been introduced into the UK and loves the deep murky water of the canals. Trouble is as with most introductions, it’s causing havoc amongst the natives. The question is who cares? Who cares about the damage this species is doing to our native fish. Who cares that the introduced Grey Squirrel has wiped out the native Red Squirrel. The list of wildlife disasters caused by man’s ignorant actions is I’m afraid, virtually endless.
10th December, a thick layer of snow is quiet and pure, and innocently puts a stop to the head-long stampede towards Christmas. I’m out in the truck delivering stranded workers, and see many excited families out and about, perhaps even more so than a summer’s day. The Park is riddled with animal tracks and Badgers, Foxes, Rabbits, Squirrel/Rat are noted. It’s great to see their previous night’s journeys and interactions.
Some girls build a fab’ snow-lady in the car-park, then some others come and smash it up. The birds are lit from below as well as above and take on a new look. The beautiful plumage on a Fieldfare, red-brown back, grey head, nape and rump, ochre and white breast with streaks and spots, a real beauty.
7th December, the rain and gloom does not stop a Blackbird from singing for a few, brief seconds. Not long now and the switchover to increased daylight will truly set them off.
5th December, the Station Road building sites are providing lots of bare soil for feeding Wagtails and Pipits. Redwings and Blackbirds are also dodging the diggers.
3rd December, Richard reports 3 Redpoll on Brington Moors.
30th November, Cold and clear is how we like it, but up in the ‘cherry-picker’ installing Christmas lights on the trees on Market Place is not for the faint hearted. The freezing wind sways the cage as it blows over the roof-tops. Steady your nerve and carry on. My lads do a great job but accuse me of standing around chatting to passers-by and birdwatching! Of course they are right, the second tree has a Collared Dove sitting on a nest (no egg – yet), and several Jackdaw hang about watching our antics. We see a Buzzard and small flocks of Redwings and Chaffinches. As we pack up for the day the horizon turn golden and we watch the sun set over the Library.
25th November, Terry reports 5 Raven together, and suggests that House Sparrows have had a better year, and I agree. Anita and Tommy see a Red Kite and David reports seeing 8 together over Cottesbrooke, with second hand report of 18 together there. A dog walk around the bare arable fields out back sees handfuls of Yellowhammer, and Chaffinch picking over the ground, with Woodpigeon, Rook and Collared Dove also. The setting low sun makes a perched Robin positively glow.
24th November, there are some odd vocal Coal Tits now appearing and I see one off West Street. There are a couple of flocks of 30ish Goldfinches and a Siskin also. Have you noticed that there are now a few Gulls, mainly Black-headed that have moved in? They don’t have the dark head this time of year and hang around on roof tops being raucous and argumentative. A good place to see them and the odd Common Gull is on the playing Fields early morning and late afternoon.
I visit Cotton End Park at half four and its nearly dark. I creep down to the lower picnic area and sit quietly. I soon see a white set of wings and watch a Barn Owl settle on a fence post. It calls three times, a slow, hollow rasping hiss, then moves off. I switch to hearing only as the light goes and hear Redwings, Blackbirds and one or more Snipe over and around me. The rush hour traffic sounds like the sea and the lights of the West Haddon bypass twinkle in the distance, but it’s not long before coldness gets me gone.
23rd November, there is something about a clear and windy day that brings out the crows and raptors. I see Rooks and Jackdaws over the village, just up there playing in the winds. And Buzzard, Red Kite and Kestrel are also seen during the day variously practicing or experiencing the winds. I sure I’m not supposed to use the phrase ‘playing’ or ‘fun’, but you just watch them for a while and see what you think.
20th November, neighbour Dave hears Tawny Owl out back and I am beginning to agree with Rebecca and think that the number of recent records suggest that they have had a good year. David Evans reports Nuthatches stripping his feeders of nuts. They are taking and catching them, Coal Tits also do this
18th November, there is a Mistle Thrush singing in the distance, and 3 Snipe are circling CEP. I visit the lambs and am confronted by the two Hebridians, Romulus and Remus. Their winter wool is thick and makes them look twice the size they did after shearing.
In the fabulous ridge and furrow field on the footpath north of St Lawrences, several Meadow Pipit, and dozens of Goldfinches are amongst the grass. This beautiful and ancient site is perhaps the only regular wintering place for Meadow Pipits that I know of in the parish.
14th November, Grey Wagtail reported. There seems to be a handful now in the parish presumably for the winter. Laura sees a Grey Heron on the side of the A5. Nick reports 3 Hares from Lodge lane, and Trevor reports Woodcock. Alan sees ‘his’ Hedgehog again and says it looks in good health, and Rebecca reports Tawny Owl in and around South Close, and Barn Owl on the Three Bridges Road, suggesting they might be doing at bit better at the moment.
12th November, a great cloud of Jackdaws (100+) are enjoying the wind. 1 Snipe reported and the Game Shooters report seeing Woodcock.
11th November, I find 3 Greenfinches and start to think these may be part of the European winter influx as opposed to a sudden upturn in fortunes for our local birds.
3rd November, 5 Grey Partridge are a rarity, so two adults and three young feeding in the lower sheep paddock at CEP is a notable record. Flyover Raven, Fieldfare and 2 Redpoll seen.
*re the Hawfinch record from the 10th. (The 90th species for Cotton End Park) It turns out that there has been an unprecedented invasion of Hawfinches into the UK and there have now been dozens of reports from the county and hundreds seen all over the country.
31st October, moving the CEP Sheep onto new grass at the bottom of The Banks and we are entertained by a Kestrel that carries on hunting regardless of the mayhem. Handfuls of Fieldfares and Redwings are about the Parish hedges trying to find the Haws, Hips, and Sloes before the flayers attack. There is a small bird zipping about in the Willows by the hide at CEP. It has a mono-syllabic ‘weet’ call which varies in pitch. It looks like a Chiffchaff and is constantly flicking its tail, which I think makes the tail look marginally longer.
It is a dull bird more brown and grey than I see in the ‘usual’ Chiffchaffs. Have I got my camera with me? Have I ****! Alan sees a Hedgehog at The Wharf. Let’s hope it doesn’t end up choosing to hibernate under a bonfire.
I watch a farmer/contractor making a hash of spreading Lime on a field. I think he’s using a muck spreader but whatever it is, only a small percent of what it’s throwing out is actually landing on the field, the rest is in a massive, towering, white cloud that’s drifting continually over a good half a mile or more onto other people’s land and gardens. This goes on for quite a while and I begin to wonder how and why he has got to the stage in his life where he doesn’t actually care about what he’s doing.
29th October, we have repaired and re-opened the Bird hide at Cotton End Park and are rewarded by 3 Snipe that leap out of the marsh, and zig-zag away. There is a Buzzard, a Sparrowhawk, 3 Greenfinch(!) and 6 Goldcrest about the place.
24th October, ‘chack,chack,chack’, Fieldfares, about ten come out of the North-east. I stand for half an hour and perhaps a thousand Woodpigeons are doing the same, wonderful visible migration. Lots of Redwings, Larks and Pipits and many others go by too high to see or hear well enough.
19th October, a 30 strong flock of small mixed birds includes mainly Long-tailed tits, Great and Blue Tits, Goldcrest and a Chiffchaff. An odd call comes from the sky and then again twice more. I look up but even though I don’t see it, I know it’s a Grey Plover.
18th October, 7 Cormorant fly in V formation over the village, and a Grey Wagtail is reported. There are odd ones and twos of Blackbird and Song Thrush going over. Donna and her sheep watch a Muntjac, and Kevin sees a Little Owl at Grove farm. A few Grey Wagtails seem to be arriving in the village.
14th October, David Evans and Dean report a pair of Dabchick from the ponds at Oak Tree Farm, and there are lots of fungi fruiting in the fields including the candle-like White Spindles and the yellow/green Parrot Waxcap. Richard reports an injured Barn Owl on the roadside, and Brian and Julie see a massive Hornet which they thought could be Asiatic (the photos don’t help this time).
12th October, the gardens and hedges have perceptively more Goldcrests and Blackbirds than before. On the east coasts hundreds of thousands of continental birds are moving into Britain for the winter, and these include many of what we call ‘garden’ species. The first snipe is seen, and it is mild enough for Red admiral, Peacock and Comma to be on the wing.
10th October, brooding skies and uncertain winds are promising as I open up the Park. Black specks are heading south on a broad front, mainly Woodpigeons, Starlings, Meadow Pipits, Finches, Skylarks and then about 30 Redwings, the first of the incoming winter thrushes. As I watch them I see two other birds behind them – unfamiliar shapes and calls. Within a second I realize that they are Hawfinches. Big robust, heavy headed, broad white wing bar, and strong undulating flight. They call continuously and disappear to the south-west. Hawfinches are now very rare in Northants with no records in some years. I am sure of what I saw but not sure of the reaction I am going to get from the bird records committee.*
8th October, the Stonechats persist and Red Kite, a Hornet, and a flyover Greenfinch are also noted. I am discussing some maintenance work with a group of volunteers from the village when we hear a rush of wings above us and receive a shower of white feathers. A female Sparrowhawk has struck a Woodpigeon but not enough to down it. It is a life and death moment, though somehow the Pigeon recovers and flies on with the Hawk in hot pursuit. We collect and stack away the last of the hay bales.
6th October, CEP has 2 visiting Stonechats but the local Robins are unhappy and chase them off. 1 male Common Darter by the pond may be the last.
5th October, half a dozen small specks materialize into Siskin as they come over West Street. Handfuls of Skylark, Yellowhammer and Meadow pipits are in the air, and the Jackdaws are performing aerobatics above the roof tops. A job on The Banks and I stop my conversation as a Redpoll flies over.
4th October, Dave reports being woken by Tawny Owls in and around The Grange on East Street, Angela sees a Bat flying around at midday near Pytchley Drive, and Louise reports Newts from her garden on Ashmore. Chiffchaff and Skylark are singing, and a Shaggy Inkcap reported.
30th September, a last day treat. I open the Park and things are quiet. A few Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, and a Pied Wagtail, fly over going south. Suddenly I hear a ‘Clip, clip, clip’ call, and look up to see 8 Crossbills flying over. As I look skywards 3 Cormorant and a Grey Wagtail follow. The Crossbills are specialist at extracting seeds from Spruce cones, and may well end up at Harlestone Heath. They are species number 89 for CEP, and I’m now thinking what species number 90 will be. Exciting stuff!
29th September, Ivy is now flowering well and it’s a magnet for insects. I step up to within an inch of a flowering cluster on my house, to try and see more of the minute flower heads. I see that some are not opening and have small holes in them. I then see a very small green, black-faced caterpillar which turns out to be Holly Blue. A first for me to see anything but the winged form of them, and great to know they breed by my front door. The caterpillar will pupate and overwinter, and hopefully I’ll see the blue-winged adult at the end of April next year.
26th September, back to the horse paddocks at Lunchtime, and this time the male Stonechat has gone. I stand and search but then hear the ‘chacking’ call of a Ring Ouzel. Trouble is there is too much cover. I try my hardest to get to see it but it stays out of sight and calls only once more in about 40 minutes. Work beckons and I’m away. I try later on but no luck. Further out between Second Moors and Edgen Hill another Stonechat is fly-catching, and I see 6 Tree Sparrows, and a Raven, plus hare. Devil’s Coach-horse, Red Admiral, and Forest Bug also noted, but only when I fell head-long into a ditch.
25th September, 12 hours of rain ends mid-morning and I do a lunch time dog-walk for ‘brownie’ points. Some left over Elephant grass on a damp patch holds a pair of Stonechat and a Reed Bunting. Stonechat are smart little birds with black, orange, russet, and white, and are mainly passage migrants that sometimes over-winter. I’m pleased I went out, and so were the dogs.. There is an upturn in Goldcrest numbers, they seem to be everywhere though are seldom seen as much as heard. And even that is an issue as the pitch of their call is so high that many (particularly older) people can’t hear them.
24th September, another rolling ball of migrating Swallows and Martins comes over heading south. They are on a wide front and the furthest are specks in the binoculars. I search through the busy birds seeing dozens of Swallows and perhaps proportionately less House Martins, and then a brown bird, a Martin.. with no white rump.. a Sand Martin. Is that new for the park? I think it is. A Common Gull follows them.
23rd September, I like a nice surprise now and then. I unlock Cotton End Park and don’t find any litter. It gets better.. I see Raven which comes over and sits on the Pylon ‘cronking’ like an old hound. A Jay appears and a Grey Wagtail flies in. I see that the Common Carder Bees are still busy on the wildflower patch, and a few Grasshoppers are at it. I am quite happy with these but then see a face staring at me. A ginger head-cap with a pure, white ‘heart-shaped’ face and two black eyes. A Barn Owl.
17th September, Brian sees 7 Red Admirals and a Comma on the Ivy at the Co-op Garden. More migrating Swallows and Martins are noted. Southern and Migrant Hawkers are reported, also Common Darter.
16th September, Raven, 2 Jay, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush, Red Kite, Buzzard, Pied Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Swallow and fly over Meadow Pipit, are all noted as I check the park. Later, walking the footpath below Oak Tree Farm sees 40 odd each of Lesser-black backed and Black-headed Gulls, and dozens of Rooks and Jackdaws on the plough. 20 Meadow Pipits go over and I hear Little Owl (how vocal they are at the moment)
15th September, a feeding flock of Swallows and Martins are moving just ahead of an ominous frontal wall of rain cloud. Dozens turn into hundreds and the grey sky is full of frantic feeders. I gaze up, face battered by the first heavy drops.
13th September, I am at the Long Buckby Junior School by kind invitation of Sue Ebbage to talk all things wild. The wildlife garden gets a thorough survey and we wow them with Sue’s photos and a few mini-beast facts. The questions keep coming, and I am delighted at the level of knowledge and interest in this room full of bright young faces.
9th September, a brief view of a Wheatear off the Brington Road but I’m in work mode. Small Toads reported. Grey Heron over. Comma, Red Admiral, Small white and Speckled Wood about.
5th September, Small Copper and Common Darter in the brief sunshine. Terry reports 2 Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillars on his Fuscia. Jay reported.
4th September, walking, well stumbling over turned field edges. All is quiet. Too quiet. Not a Crow or Pigeon to be seen. I stand for a while and scan, come on there must be something?.. There it is, a Peregrine is soaring high above the fields and presumably waiting for a Wood Pigeon to break cover. The humble Meadow Pipit is a passage migrant from Northern climes and is a sign. I see the first of the autumn overhead, and know they will be almost daily for the next few weeks.
3rd September, baling the hay at the park is unnervingly reminding me of the old days, tractors, trailers, adults, youths, and dogs spread over the meadow like a scene from a long forgotten Agricultural College health and safety video. It’s a rush because a circling, leaden sky is wanting to drown us. It hangs in suspension, like a freeze-frame of a heavy duvet about to alight on a bed. The weather App says serious rain for the next 2 hours and we all believe it – but somehow we are spared, we are blessed. Itchy seeds and stems find their way into shirts and onto sweaty backs, the spiking Thistle makes its last stand as it penetrates sleeves and gloves, and finally by late afternoon, we’ve create a stack, with some hastily tied tarps’ to suite. Time for tea? Hang on – what’s the dog rolling in? Oh; it’s a dead Grass Snake, maggots and all, I’ll let you tell your mum.
2nd September, there are some very competent local photographers that include wildlife in their portfolios, Sue and Chris Ebbage (Who’s images appear in these wildlife diaries), Tom Goode, and Sandy Oliver to name a few. I have friends who are professional wildlife photographers who were once just watchers. I still just want to see, to watch what I find and enjoy it in the moment, but I am wrong. The bird recording authorities, at local and national levels are now insisting on photographic evidence of any notable bird that you find. So I need to get with it. I open the park and a normally high, fast and distant Hobby flies low and slow, and over my head in good light! As if to say – ‘get with it! Where’s your camera?’ I meet some members of the Northampton Mensa Group and we have a delightful walk and talk.
1st September, this time of year I am thinking about migrant birds and where to see them in and around Buckby. I have my favourite places, places that maybe have produced more sightings for me than other places. Of course this is probably flawed because I then stop looking in those other places and just visit my favourites. Who knows what wonderful delights are being seen in the other places I don’t visit. And that ladies and gentlemen is an insight into the weird way a birdwatchers brain works. To confirm my affliction I stop-by at one of my favourite places, which is half way up the back road to West Haddon. I scan the fence lines as I’ve done a dozen times in the last month and no doubt will do even more so in the following month. And there is a stunning male Wheatear, so I will shut up, take back what I said, and continue with my affliction…