A happy new year from Linda at Start Birding

Hello birdwatchers and a happy new year to you all

My 2013 bird list started with a fantastic day around the outskirts of Wakefield on the 2nd January. Water levels were high but, luckily, our target birds were at home on deep water – some normally living out to sea. Long-tailed duck and scaup were found at Anglers Country Park and Wintersett, respectively, and turned up again as we walked around Calder Wetlands. Large flocks of wigeon were everywhere and accompanied by gadwall, goldeneye, goosander, mallard and teal. Unexpectedly, a small flock of waxwing landed close by, alerting us with their soft, trilling call.

waxwings at Calder Wetlands

a grey heron at Wintersett

It has been great to see so many people outdoors over the last week. The weather has been mild but, because of all the rain, the ground is completely saturated, footpaths are unrecognisable and outdoor activities are not for the faint hearted or unequipped. Nevertheless, the number of walkers, runners, birdwatchers, cyclists and horse riders out there has been remarkable and really noticeable on today’s Eccup circular walk – especially given the terrible footpath conditions. It was yet another grey morning, and birds were scarce, but the ones we saw were really worth the extra effort it takes to walk in those conditions.

We began our walk by taking a look at the birds on Eccup reservoir. Accompanying a few hundred wigeon were a small, displaying flock of goldeneye; some very smart goosander; mallards; great crested grebe and cormorant. A couple of adult pied wagtails were joined by a juvenile on the water’s edge and small skeins of greylag geese honked noisily as they made their way to the nearby fields.

Moving on, we took the lane past the water works, looking for siskin on the roadside alders. A pair of bullfinches brought some colour to the dullness of the day then flew off showing their distinctive white rumps. A mistle thrush rattled at us from a nearby high tree. Scanning the field opposite the water works, we found a red kite, a crow and a starling all perching on a partially dead oak.

Making our way down to Bank House Farm we found about 10 grey partridges then were surprised to find a buzzard feeding on a rabbit corpse in the next field. A red kite, also on the ground, watched from a few yards away while a two more kites circled above. After a few moments, the buzzard left, leaving the kite finish off the remains of the kill. We watched as another kite joined the first, possibly a mate or a family member as there was no aggression between the two birds as they fed together. The third kite kept its distance. Tree sparrows, house sparrows, chaffinch and yellowhammer could be heard in the hedgerows and 3 skylarks called as they flew overhead. Raptor alarm calls alerted us to a kestrel flying over.

Red kite at Eccup (photo: Peter Scholes)

Throughout our walk so far, a large, swirling flock of lapwing had been airborne, flying this way and that as if something was disturbing them. As we approached the farm, we finally found them at rest so we were able to take a closer look at them through the telescope before they took flight again. There was a lot of activity on the farm but we couldn’t find any other reason why they might be so unsettled. A little further along our walk, a flock of of about 60 golden plover had joined the lapwing above our heads. We were just able to hear their plaintive cry above the sound of walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Unfortunately the settled out of sight.

Apart from many views of red kite, our muddy walk back to the reservoir was only punctuated by sightings of jay, blue tit, great tit, yellowhammer; flocks of chaffinches, crows, jackdaws and woodpigeons; 5 stock doves, a blackbird and another great view of a kestrel – this time a male perched on the outer branches of a nearby sycamore. Back at the reservoir, we had a much needed cuppa and had another look at the birds on the water. A great-spotted woodpecker “chipped” from a high branch,  officially making himself the last bird of the day.

Woodpigeons are everywhere at the moment and, using them for size comparison, it is a great opportunity to scan the fields and learn how to identify stock doves. These beautiful resident birds are very much overlooked by birdwatchers and, to make matters worse, they have a quiet, repeated oo-woo oo-woo song which is difficult to pick out in a noisy spring woodland. I have spent the last year trying to raise awareness of this species and have manged to find stock doves on most of my walks over the last 12 months and in my garden just 2 miles from Leeds city centre.

Stock doves can easily be misidentified in urban and semi-urban areas as some feral pigeons can show similar markings. Thankfully, feral pigeons have such variable markings that, generally, no two are alike. Stock doves, however, are completely alike so look for pairs or small flocks in woodland or nearby farmland with mature trees. Stock doves have a gentle looking face with a black, deep set eye, a white cere (where the nostrils are) above a yellow beak and violet and green iridescent feathers around the neck. It has been described as having lavender plumage which contrasts with striking black wing bars and a black bar to the end of its tail. In flight, the stock dove looks as though someone has drawn around the wings with a black felt tip pen so check those flying pigeons and doves!

There are no white markings on a stock dove and they are in better proportion than those small headed/large bodied woodpigeons. When walking, stock doves have a nodding head unlike the woodpigeon’s “obese gait”. Just be aware that young woodpigeons could confuse you, as they don’t have a white collar and can appear darker around the eye than an adult bird, but they still have a small head and a large body and waddle like a woodpigeon.

Click here for some stunning photos of stock doves by Sue Tranter.

If you’d like to find out more about how to identify birds or you’d like to join me on one of my walks then contact me linda.startbirding@gmail.com

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