Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Yellowhammer by Phil Smith
January 1st seems ages ago now, but it was a such a lovely day that I'd like to do it again! Every year we hold an "icebreaker" event on New Year's Day and it's always a success. After the over indulgence of a holiday spent mostly indoors, I'm sure people just like to get out and about. A lucky few may have a new camera or binoculars to try out, but most of us have had enough of just looking out of the window. 271 people joined us this year and the there walks we put on were well supported.

We should have loads of wildfowl to watch and a few wintering thrushes will always turn up, so it is possible to see over 50 species of birds in a couple of hours; that's what I tell people anyway. I have seen 57 species on or over the Heronry Lake in a single session before.

This year, I took 37 people out on a sponsored bird-watch with a difference. Instead of sponsoring me to get a big list, visitors were asked to pay me 10p for each species I showed them. We raised over £170 doing this, but we only ticked 41 species and they didn't include the smew that some others saw.

Male bullfinch
The highlight for me was when we trudged through the mud along the side of the arable to look at the wild-bird cover mix in the hope of seeing a yellowhammer or two. We saw about 150, which were still there a week later! We haven't had numbers like that for about five years.

On a dull winters day, a flash of yellow can absolutely capture your heart, but a blob of plumb/pink in a black and white frame can blow you away! That's how I feel when I see a male bullfinch. If you are at the point in your bird-watching career when you can walk past a bullfinch without raising your binoculars to savour the view, then it's time for your medication, in my view. I was late setting off for home on Sunday, but I just couldn't resist trying to photograph an obliging male bullfinch at our car park. I say "obliging" but he mostly kept a stick between us making for a load of spoiled photos. 'What a beauty though.
Snowy-headed robin

Lots of people have been posting photos of birds in snow this week. I had a go from my office window as the light fell and caught a robin with a blob of snow on his head. Actually, there were four robins at the bird table at once and no fighting, for a change. At home I tried putting the camera outside and firing it from the living room using a remote control. It's got its merits as a method because it avoids the distortion caused by cheap double-glazing, but you cant move the camera without going outside and scaring everything away. Also, the maximum time I can leave my Nikon without taking a photo is 15 mins, after which it shuts down and has to be shaken awake by hand.

It looks like this weekend will give us another chance for some snowy shots, so I'll be out and about and hope to see you too. We are also going into a period of solar flares that can trigger the Northern Lights. They were brilliant last night, at least they were in Norway. My friends in Shetland just saw a few green "searchlights". I have seen that effect from Grafham, so keep your eyes on the northern horizon at night.