Floods, fog and feathers

Hello birdwatchers

How lucky we have been with the weather this week on Start Birding birdwatching trips. We’ve been treated to the best of autumnal weather with dramatic mists hanging in the valleys, blue skies and wispy clouds. The diffused light has enhanced the seasonal yellow, gold and russet hues of the October landscape and has provided a colourful backdrop for viewing details of plumage as birds reach their peak plumage condition.

Great spotted woodpecker at Alkborough

In complete contrast, today is overcast and drizzly. The perfect day for looking at photographs and writing a blog. So where have we been this week?

As usual, Start Birding birdwatching classes took place at Rodley Nature Reserve on Monday and Wednesday evening. This week we began our journey into bird songs and calls. If you’ve always wanted to learn bird songs and haven’t managed it so far then why not join a Start Birding class and commit to starting the journey yourself? You can contact me via this page or by visiting my website www.startbirding.co.uk

On Thursday, Alkborough Flats was the destination. We started in the village at the turf cut maze called Julian’s Bower and looked over the cliff towards the flats and Trent Falls. We were looking forward to watching waders and wildfowl however, high tides during the week had flooded the area making exposed mud, and waders, scarce.

Alkborough Flats

Redshank, curlew and lapwing were found on the flats but we had to walk over to Trent Falls, almost getting our feet wet, to see flocks of golden plover. Two little egrets were on the Trent and small flocks of Brent geese flew towards the Humber estuary. Back on the flats, large flocks of teal, wigeon and shelduck were interspersed by mallard and shoveler. Great-spotted woodpecker and reed bunting were also seen. As it was relatively quiet, we followed a couple of other birdwatchers to Worlaby Carrs where short-eared owls had been seen that week, early in the afternoon. We weren’t able to stay there too long and sadly the owls didn’t show up for us this time but it was good to get some much needed exercise on our walk around the area. We did manage to see male and female marsh harrier, buzzards and kestrel, my first fieldfare of the year, mistle thrush and stock dove.

While we were waiting for the owls, loud laughing calls from many female mallards brought a smile to our faces. After a short walk, we found about 150 mallards on a small man-made pool encircled by reeds and banks. They were so engrossed with each other that they didn’t hear us approaching which gave them a bit of a fright. Luckily they all took to the water instead of flying off so we were able to take a few photos before leaving them to their pre-nuptial gathering.

Mallards at Worlaby Carrs

We returned to Alkborough Flats to watch the evening starling roost across the flood plain. We weren’t disappointed and watched thousands of starlings gathering in small groups before their murmuration across the river convergence.

Starlings gather before their murmuration over Alkborough Flats

On Saturday I took a group of birdwatchers to Ogston Reservoir and Carsington Water in Derbyshire. This was a scheduled trip on the Start Birding calendar but a quick search on Birdguides Bird News Extra the night before gave us target species of grey phalarope, rock pipit and drake scaup at Carsington Water. We journeyed south on the M1 in beautiful sunny weather but ran into thick fog as we headed for Ogston Reservoir so, consequently, made our stay a brief one. Luckily, a snipe stepped into view as we looked over to the hide belonging to the Ogston Bird Club and we were able to see a few birds on the water from the public hide.

At Carsington, the sun began to disperse the fog soon after we arrived so we spent the day in lovely sunshine. The scaup and rock pipit were easily found but the grey phalarope gave us, and a few other frustrated birders, the run around for a good part of the afternoon. After scanning every bit of water we could see, we finally caught up with it from the Paul Stanley hide in the far corner of the inlet. Everyone managed to get a good look of it before it flew swiftly right and out of view. Too quickly to get a photo but we did manage to get the scaup and a lovely nuthatch which we saw feeding with tree sparrows, willow tit and coal tit at the feeders.

Drake scaup at Carsington Water
Nuthatch (taken by Rodney German)

On Sunday I took a trip to Nosterfield Local Nature Reserve and Nosterfield Quarry. Again we arrived in thick fog but this time it took a little longer to clear. The excellent hide at Nosterfield provided us with enough literature to read with our flask of coffee while we waited for the fog to clear. As you can see, it wasn’t possible to view many birds so we observed the behaviour of little grebe, mallard, wigeon, starling and teal at the water’s edge close to the hide.

Fog restricted birding at Nosterfield

Thankfully, the fog cleared soon after and we managed to have a walk at the quarry in full sunshine and return back to Nosterfield reserve before it descended on us again.

Sun and wispy cloud over Nosterfield Quarry

Hundreds of golden plover were present in the area with large flocks of lapwing. Flocks of greylags moved between both areas, their grating calls piercing the late fog and guiding other flocks onto the water. Dunlin, shelduck and Canada geese were also present and a little owl was seen in the base of a coppiced tree at the far end of the quarry.

Golden plover at Nosterfield Quarry

Greylag geese at Nosterfield Quarry

Lapwing at Nosterfield Quarry
This week sees the end of the first Birdwatching for Beginners course at Rodley as we have a break for half term. At the weekend we’ll visit North Cave Wetlands and the Wednesday birdwatchers will join me at Rodley Nature Reserve on Sunday to practise their bird identification.
More next week

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