Friday, January 25, 2013


My garden is almost birdless, save for the odd Wood Pigeon & Magpie that drops by. Across the road, Caroline's back garden is a hive of activity and, watching the various birds coming to and fro to feed in the tree outside the kitchen window - decked out like a Christmas tree with a seed dispenser, suet containers & bits of apple hanging off the bare branches - I admit to being green with envy!

Caroline had invited me to watch one of the two female Blackcaps that regularly visit her coconut suet feeder. Females have a brown cap; the males have the black cap which gives this species its name. Here's a bit of footage of the bird feeding:

Before the 1960s you wouldn't see a Blackcap in the UK during the winter. They were all in southern Europe or northern Africa soaking up the sun. But because Caroline, and thousands like her, put out a veritable banquet of tasty bird food during the winter months, some Blackcaps have decided that they would prefer to spend their winters here, despite the cold.

And here's the thing: the Blackcaps in your garden now (and the owner of one garden in a mild southerly part of the Isle of Wight has counted an amazing 9 individuals visiting his bird table!) are not the Blackcaps that were singing in your local countryside last Spring and Summer, but almost certainly originate from Germany and north-eastern Europe!!

Whatever the original reason was for this switch in wintering grounds by these continental birds, it has resulted in a very interesting phenomenon. With the UK and other wintry countries being closer to their summer breeding grounds, they arrive back before the sun-loving migrants and pair up and breed with other winter-loving birds, a process that may very well result in not one, but two separate species at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Amazing, or what!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hoverfly yearnings!!

I love going out and seeing what birds are around, but I can't wait to begin posting more on the local mammals, plants & invertebrates. The local hoverfly fauna particularly interests me. This time last year was a lot milder and there were a number of the common 'Marmalade Hoverfly' (Episyrphus balteatus) around in the local hedgerows, but I've not had a sniff of any this year.

So here's a fascinating piece of video in anticipation of warmer days. It's a clip from David Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth series with some of the most fascinating Hoverfly footage I've ever seen. As far as I'm concerned, it's right up there with his famous Mountain Gorilla footage!! Why do male Hoverflies spend so much time hovering......

Monday, January 21, 2013

Black-tailed Godwit

I love watching the Black-tailed Godwit on the Western Yar Estuary, and especially as they allow you to get so close! In this video clip you can see just how busy they are when they feed:

According to Wikipedia, they peck at the substrate up to 36 times a minute, but I reckon that record is well-beaten by my locals! I guess they're feeding on worms and small molluscs. Now and again it looks like you can see an object in the slightly opened beak if you look closely. The other thing that struck me is the just how thoroughly the birds 'work over' a very small area. If you look at the video again, you'll notice that, between 42 seconds & 1 minute in, it literally 'hammers' a very small area. When I've got a bit of time I might try to work out just how many pecks it makes during that time...or you can, and let me know! :-)

The Wikipedia article taught me something else that I didn't know about Black-tailed Godwits: they are thought to be monogamous in the main but, 'A study of the Icelandic population showed that despite spending winter apart, pairs are reunited on their breeding grounds within an average of three days of each other. If one partner does not arrive on time, 'divorce' occurs!'

 This was the beautiful sunset on the Western Yar Estuary this evening. It was made even more atmospheric as over 300 noisy Brent Geese passed through, and large numbers of Wigeon flew overhead. A Red Fox slowly meandered down the field hedgerow opposite Kingfisher Bridge.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Isle of White!!

When we moved to the Isle of Wight we were told that it very rarely snows, but we've joined much of the UK today with a white blanket across the island under leaden skies. This is the footpath along the estuary...a winter wonderland!!

This Coot was definitely looking bemused, probably wondering what was going on. Here's a video clip with the Coot, together with a confiding Robin I came across on the way to Yarmouth:

When I looked at this video closely, I realised that I've managed to film the Robin ejecting a small pellet. We often associate these pellets, consisting of indigestible matter, with Owls and other large birds, but smaller birds also engage in this behaviour.

Finally, the bird below was swimming about with the tame Mallard Flock by the Old Station. It's got a bit of Mallard in it, but I'm struggling to work out what else!!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Buzzard with Rabbits off the menu!

I was really pleased today to pick up my first Siskins for the West Wight. At the other end of the size scale, Carole and I came across what I'm pretty sure was a Golden Eagle during a walk along the top of Headon Warren on Sunday afternoon, hanging in the breeze over the sea! An escaped Golden Eagle was spotted on the island in 2011, so I reckon that this is probably the same individual.

I checked up on Chalky, the pale juvenile Buzzard in the Bramble Chine fields, today, and came across an interesting sight:

Chalky was in the usual place, perched on a fencepost, and I was fascinated to witness the two Rabbits grazing just a few metres away. Buzzards do feed on Rabbits, and I'm surprised that he didn't have a go at picking one of them off when they were facing the other way!

There was a nice sunset over the Estuary this evening.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A sunny day on the West Wight

 January 11th......and warm sunshine lighting up the island. With a very different forecast for the weekend, I decided to swap my day off from tomorrow and went for an invigorating walk along West High Down and, afterwards, the Western Yar Estuary.

My previous post illustrates the scene from the Needles viewpoint. Further round, alongside Alum Bay, I came across this Peregrine Falcon:

Walking back to the car along the West High Down fenceline, I came across an absolutely stunning Firecrest in the scrub alongside Warren Farm. I then stopped off briefly at the estuary where the over-wintering Greenshank allowed a much closer approach than usual:

Together with an emotional trip to see Les Mis this evening, it's really been quite an amazing day!

Friday, January 11, 2013

West Wight Life: Needles Coastguard & MV Patricia

This is The Needles Coastguard Station. It had been closed for a number of years, but reopened in August 2012 manned by volunteers. Since then it has already drawn attention to two ships in trouble, allowing an early rescue.

A few days ago I put a photo of the MV Patricia on this blog. In the video sequence below you can see this Trinity House ship servicing the Western Buoy just past The Needles. The surf of the waves a little way further back marks the edge of the shingle bank. All commercial ships have to pass between the buoy and the shingle and can only be guided in if one of the crew has a pilot's licence for this particular area, otherwise they have to approach Southampton & Portsmouth from the eastern side of the island.

Earlier today the Keeper & 2 volunteers in the station watched a Stoat catch a rabbit on the grass in front of the station!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Meadow Pipit

I've been inside & going increasingly stir-crazy over the last few days, so a quick cycle down to Colwell Bay was healing.

There's always something to see. Meadow Pipits often don't get a second glance, but I was drawn to this individual foraging on one of the breakwaters. Whatever it is picking from the wood is so small that I can't make out anything!

A low flying plane put up over 160 Brent Geese that flew over my head and settled on the water. Near to shore a Great Crested Grebe was fishing.

This 'Mermaid's Purse' had been washed up onto the beach. The stiff spikes in the corners indicate that it belongs to a species of Ray or Skate, rather than a Dogfish, but I'm not sure how exact one can be in identifying these objects.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Common Scoter

This morning I joined a happy band of birding pilgrims from the Isle of Wight Natural History & Archaeological Society on their first official walk of the year. The venue was my local patch - Rofford Marsh & The Western Yar estuary - so I was hoping that many more pairs of eyes and ears would result in some special sightings. In the event, my new 'tick' for the estuary was in plain view in the middle of the marsh: 2 male and 1 female Pintail, one of my favourite duck species.

During the morning I was told that another duck, the female Common Scoter I had found in Freshwater Bay on Boxing Day, was still around and close to shore. Most views of these sea ducks are of black dots rapidly flying close to the water on the distant horizon, so I took the camera down to Freshwater Bay this afternoon to record some footage. The misty weather conditions made it difficult to get good footage, but I'm pleased that you can pretty easily make out what it is! It seems quite at home here feeding on the local shellfish - I wonder how much longer it will stay?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Turn it down a bit...I can't hear myself sing!

Well, I just couldn't think of an appropriate title for today's Blog.

The subject is a Song Thrush that started singing in a tree at the side of Norton Spit on Wednesday....the 2nd January!!! The only problem is that the Thrush is facing a lot of competition from the traffic that roars and thunders by day-in, day-out. If you watch...and listen to...the video below you will see...and hear...what I mean!

Whilst researching the internet in preparation for a talk on bird song that I'd been invited to give a few years ago, I came across some fascinating studies into the effects of our modern-day noise on bird song. For instance, one American study on White-crowned Sparrows - referred to here - concluded that urban birds have ditched many of the lower notes employed by their country cousins - drowned out by the noise of traffic - and employ many more higher notes! Mind you, we all know that studies are never simple! I've just come across another American study - here - that demonstrates how birds singing in built up areas utilize the lower frequency because the hard surfaces of roads & buildings transmit the sounds well. It does point out, though, that this is not the case where there is a high traffic density.

Whatever you think, you can't deny that this Song Thrush is going to have to work pretty hard to attract a mate & defend his patch!!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Early Bird catches the Worm!

'Chalky' is the name with which I've christened the pale juvenile Common Buzzard that's currently residing in the fields at Bramble Chine (see yesterday's post). First thing this morning it was feeding in the field again and, this time, it was obvious that at least a few worms were included in the diet. You can see the proof of that in the video below, particularly 50-60 seconds in.

Worms are actually a staple diet for Buzzards which is why they can often be seen 'on the deck' at this time of year when it's mild and damp. I also vividly remember spending an afternoon watching the local Kestrel 'worming' on the local playing field when I lived in Ampthill. Worms don't look very appetising to us, but they're packed full of nutritious proteins, minerals & vitamins! What impresses me, and is obvious from the video, is the brilliant eyesight that enables the Buzzard to see the worms from a distance!


This juvenile Buzzard is a regular fixture in the Bramble Chine fields. It's a very light individual. Notice the streaks on the breast, a feature of young birds. In the video below you can see it striding across the field to feed, though I'm a bit stumped as to what it's feeding on. A young Rabbit was feeding in the open a short distance away, but it looks like this youngster was much more interested with invertebrate fare!

I'm getting quite interested in the boats that sail by on this west side of the island, so I'll include a few from time to time. These two were seen from the Fort Victoria viewpoint:
This is the Patricia, a multi-functional tender that works around the coast, particularly with regards to navigation. That yellow object behind the bow is a large buoy, so I reckon it's on its way to position it somewhere in the Channel.

And The City of Chichester steamed by in the opposite direction. It's a trailing suction hopper dredger according to my information.....I guess that means that it's a souped up vaccuum cleaner!