Fight Club

Hello birdwatchers

I’m breaking the first rule of Fight Club by talking about Fight Club. No, I’ve not taken up street fighting, I’m watching some local blackbirds chasing off their continental cousins on my cotoneaster tree. A flock of about 20 redwing and a handful of non British blackbirds are engaged in combat over berries. A song thrush, a very rare bird in my garden, also joined them them for a short while but, being a timid bird, it didn’t like the company and retreated to a more secluded part of the garden.

A song thrush on my hawthorn, surprisingly a rare bird in my garden

I usually only see song thrushes and mistle thrushes singing in neighbouring gardens. They visit my garden infrequently despite it having a lot of suitable places for them to feed. I can understand the song thrush wanting to keep away from its aggressive family members but a mistle thrush normally loves to get involved in family arguments, especially close to Christmas time when there are rich pickings at the garden “table”.

I’m hoping the berries last long enough for me to be able to attract fieldfare this year. I’ve put apples on the ground again to coax the fieldfares but I haven’t seen many around Leeds while I’ve been out on my trips.

Due to us having very few waxwings in the country so far, I’m not holding out much hope that I’ll get my first waxwing for the garden this year. I’m keeping an eye on the bird news for the country to build up an overall picture and, when/if any turn up in Leeds I’ll let everyone know on my distribution list so, if you want to receive news, then send me your email address.

One of the many waxwings that came to the UK last year

The weather continues to be mild and we’ve not had many days when the systems have come from the north and east to assist migration. Consequently numbers of winter visitors remain low in the country. The exception to this has been the surge of stormy weather that hit us last week. Thursday’s storms created havoc for many people along the east coast and also for our treasured nature reserves in the area.

I received an email from the RSPB highlighting the devastation caused to places such as Snettisham in Norfolk. It is estimated that over £300,000 of damage has been caused in total to RSPB reserves by the initial storm and the spring tides that followed and an RSPB appeal has been put in place to collect valuable funds. Damaged sites include Saltholme in the north-east and Titchwell in North Norfolk which suffered damage to the dunes and boardwalk. Thankfully, the recent Coastal Change Project effectively minimised the impact of the storm at this reserve. No doubt other conservation organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts, will be in need of funds to repair our much loved sites including those in Scotland, Northumberland, Cleveland, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and the south east.

Damage at RSPB Snettisham

I know that conservation organisations are often asking us for extra donations but I just want to draw attention to how important all these areas are for over-wintering birds. The UK is a haven for wildlife during the winter months and, without our reserves functioning normally and providing the right habitat to feed, it may mean that some species may not make it to breed next spring. Grey seals have suffered badly at Donna Nook and the effects of seawater entering freshwater lagoons will stretch into spring and summer as our water voles, grass snakes and aquatic insect life struggle to survive the harsh conditions.

Damage at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Spurn Point has been the worst recorded since January 1953 and the profile of the beach on the Spurn Peninsula has significantly changed as a result. Some of the Hebridean sheep that graze on the reserve were also washed away. Luckily the reserve’s infrastructure survived and I’m sure that staff and volunteers will be working hard to make the site accessible again. Keep up-to-date with the news at Spurn by clicking on the link above and read the BBC report here

Well, another year is almost over and it has been the most fantastic one for Start Birding trips. I hope that you’ve been following our progress over the last 12 months. Last weekend we visited the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Denaby Ings in South Yorkshire for a half day and had a lovely view of a kingfisher which, for a moment, looked as if it was going to join us in the hide as it flew towards us. Goosander, pochard, tufted duck, shoveler, gadwall and mallard represented the duck family while cormorant and heron stood sentry over the lagoon. In the woodland we found great-spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, treecreeper and goldcrest and flocks of redwing “tseeted” at us throughout the walk. A single fieldfare alerted us with its “chack chack” call but we didn’t manage to see it. Good views of buzzard and a sparrowhawk enhanced our experience of the site and we were also very lucky with the weather given the amount of rain and cloud that Leeds had experienced that morning.

Cormorant at Denaby Ings

My Monday evening class finished their sessions on environmental adaptations and began their classes on wildfowl by studying swans and geese. This coming week we’ll start learning about the ducks that can be found in the UK. The Wednesday class looked at water rails last week and, this week, learned about herons, egrets and bitterns. They’ll complete the 2013 classes by looking at starlings and murmurations. The Tuesday morning birdwatchers visited Rodley Nature Reserve and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s wonderful reserve at Adel Dam and, on a very still and sunny morning, we found teal, goosander, tufted duck, great-spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, mandarin duck and, the star of the show, a water rail sunning itself at the back of the lake.

A water rail at Adel Dam Nature Reserve


While we were at Adel Dam, we saw yet another strange heron, this time sitting in the water. So far in November and December we’ve seen 3 dead herons at Top Hill Low and a heron lying down on two occasions at Rodley Nature Reserve. This one was behaving very strangely indeed and I’m wondering whether there is anything wrong with our herons – if anyone has any information then please get in touch.

A heron sitting in the water at Adel Dam

Same heron lying down in the water

Over the last few days of the year, birdwatchers will join me at Townclose Hills, Temple Newsam, Yeadon Tarn, Fairburn Ings and Rodley Nature Reserve again and, in the next couple of days, my programme of events for January to March 2014 will be winging its way to everyone on my list.

Don’t forget that Start Birding can provide you with gift vouchers for Christmas and birthdays at very short notice and prices start at £10. See the “Christmas Gift Voucher” tab on this blog or visit my web page.

This will be my last blog of 2013 – join me in January to hear about my best birding moments of this year and my favourite bird sightings. Thank you so much for supporting my business over the last year – it has been lovely spending time with you and I look forward to seeing you all again in 2014.

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