In the past 11 years I’d never been back to the UK at a time when I could see some of the regular summer visitors including the one favourite that I do miss, the Common Swift. For me the sight of 1000 swifts wheeling overhead or driven low by drizzle to snatch almost ground level insects is one the great avian spectacles. Lucky for me then that it was throwing it down last Wednesday when I got to Colwick Park, Nottingham for my customary visit. I spent 15 years there as a warden and it still draws me back just to see how the place has changed.
Photographing miserable swifts in terrible light is not easy as they keep moving, hence the tripe below. For those who have never seen one, a Common Swift is not much short, in wing-span terms, of an American Kestrel. They live up to their name by careening about, twisting and turning as they funnel briefly surprised insects into their broad gape. It is not a great stretch to see similarities with nightjars and nighthawks when staring into the open mouth of the swift, presumably that is why they sit quite closely to the nightjars, systematically speaking.
Ducks are buggers. They migrate, they interbreed and they escape from captivity. The latter problem clouds the status of some species, especially the pretty ones. Red-crested Pochard are undoubtedly pretty but their provenance in UK waters is entirely suspect and it is hard to say whether there has ever been a genuinely wild bird there. As the finder of the odd rare duck! My policy has always been innocent until proven guilty; it’s the law of the land. The Red-crested Pochard here displayed characteristics of being wild (it could fly) but the habit of following duck feeding kids around, casts some aspersions as to its true origins.
In the UK the White Wagtail isn’t, it’s pied. They seemed less common to me on this trip but I still saw a few every day. Winter is the better time to assess their status. They gather at night and they used to roost communally in Nottingham City Center. The small tress festooned with birds all glowing slightly yellow under the sodium lighting. Elven safety may have forced the council to clear the birds out for fear that someone might get a speck of bird poo on them, mind you, Elven safety is not all it’s cracked up to be, where is the handrail on that bridge to Rivendell eh? And those arrows, no hi-vis tape anywhere, you could have someone’s eye out with one of those!
In Notts they have local names for some birds – true nobody sane has used them for 200 years but they still exist in every twee little bird spotting book ever published. One that is actually descriptive is Peggy Nettlecreeper. Rational folks know it as Common Whitethroat because it’s a, common (now) and b, has a white throat. It also nettle creeps, what a giveaway.
See Eurasian Coot and die they say, well they actually say Napoli and while there is a fair to good chance that will happen in the Italian craphole that is Napoli, few birders have suffered anything similar when encountering a coot for the first time. It differs from its way more exciting American relative by not being in America but also by not having vague white bits at the back end and a smudge on the bill.
Little Grebe is little but not as small as Least Grebe which is the lesser of the two, clear? It is actually a pretty little grebe when looked at in good light.
Northern Lapwing, Pewit, Green Plover – two of those names are wrong and yet this substantial plover is sometimes called them. Pewit is quite good as a name, it reflects the frantic `Pewit` it utters as it flies pointlessly at a Red Fox while it devours its young. As for the other name, well it’s not green now is it? Northern Lapwings numbers are falling as the agricultural practices change, meaning that their nests get mown earlier than they did before, therefore destroying their eggs instead of just decapitating their young.
Way back in the early 1980s I twitched a Little Egret that found a field near Attenborough, Notts, ideal for pottering about in. It was the third county record at the time, now they breed like budgies. I visited Rutland Water and took the following shots. There were eight there.
Open eBird and try to enter Egyptian Goose for the Nile and it will cough. Enter the same species for anywhere in Notts and it is no problem.
If you walk a hedgerow with tallish shrubs and trees in spring then the chances are that you will see, or at least certainly hear, a Chiffchaff. Don`t expect it to be word perfect – they usually chiff-chiff-chaff a bit before chucking in a chaff although many lose the plot completely and get all random on you. In Canada we have what some call `confusing fall warblers` but even on a wet Tuesday they have more colour than a Chiffchaff in full summer resplendence.
Common Nightingale is a misnomer of a name because they are not at all common in the UK and the thick peasants of Europe don`t help by using bird lime to catch them then pickle them, all paid for by European Union subsidies. I`ve actually seen may, three figures worth I`d say, but a bird at Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve topped the lot by singing out in the open and blasting away, giving me my best prolonged views ever.
Tree Sparrows are one of the species that the UK is in danger of losing to what might be termed a `local` extinction but in truth is just negligence by the keepers of our countryside, farmers. There are still some strong populations though and Bempton in Yorkshire was fair hopping with them.
Jackdaws are characterful corvids that are the cheeky chappies of the bird World, they like scones too. This bird knew which side its baked goods were low fat marged hanging around the picnic tables for scraps.
This is a Reed Warbler, they normally look more Reed Warbler like whereas this one is pretending to be a Cetti`s Warbler.
Here is a Goldfinch just because I have one.
Finally a couple of animals. A Red Fox that was slinking around at Attenborough and a Muntjac or Chinese Water Deer #11 o the menu I think.