Winter birds (so far)…

As of today, we haven’t had much in the way of genuine winter weather here in the English midlands – a few frosts, only a couple of which endured throughout the day; some early morning mist and fog; a couple of biting winds, and that’s been about it. From memory, that makes this year’s pre new year period similar to that of 2015.

I couldn’t count myself as a birdwatcher in the proper meaning of the word, although, as it happens, I’m not sure of the exact meaning. Time for a digression: those in the know tell me that there are clear distinctions between birdwatchers, twitchers and birders. I’ve had it all explained to me, more than once, and it’s still not stuck – although I’m pretty sure that birders are at the apex of the pyramid. If I’ve got that right, then I’m most definitely not a birder, in any sense of the word.

I’m generally of the view that whatever I see when out walking is most likely to be something I’ve inadvertently disturbed by my presence. It took me a while to work out that birds disappearing into hedgerows, or moving behind the branch of a tree, wasn’t ‘unlucky’ – it was simply them being smart in the face of a perceived threat; that and the fact that they’d undoubtedly seen me long before I ever spotted them. That’s just for context – my observations and recording of sightings are inexpert, inconsistent and would probably exasperate a proper birder.

Anyway, back to the point. Two winter varieties I always look for are redwings and fieldfares; both members of the thrush family – so big enough to be easily spotted, and likely to be gathered in flocks. Last winter, I saw just a single group of fieldfares and not even a solitary redwing: the fieldfares were in a place where I wouldn’t normally be walking (I was planning a route for a local charity, from a starting point they’d already chosen); other than that winter would have passed without a single sighting of either variety.

Already this winter I’ve stumbled across several large gatherings of both fieldfares and redwings; all of them adjacent to regular ‘beaten tracks’, although they do keep their distance and it seems that when one moves they all do.

The other thing I’ve noticed is – and I hope I’m not tempting fate here – how well the very smallest birds seem to be doing: I don’t recall ever seeing so many goldcrests and, on a run earlier today, there was a section of path, bounded by hedgerows on either side, where wrens seemed to be criss-crossing in front of me every twenty yards or so. It’s possible that this year’s numbers are a consequence of last year’s benign winter; if a sustained cold snap does arrive, they will be hit hard. Hopefully nature finds a way to make it all work out…

Addendum: And kingfishers – more than for many a year; mostly along stretches of rural canal, but elsewhere as well.

Pictures:     Top – Redwing (RSPB images); Centre – Fieldfare (BBC.co.uk); Bottom – Godcrest (RSPB images)

redwing

fiedfare

goldcrest

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4 thoughts on “Winter birds (so far)…

  1. An interesting post. As I was reading my eyes glanced down to the photos and I was thinking, “Dave is having us on – he claims not to be an expert “bird observer” and yet he has taken photos that would be most peoples envy.” Then all was revealed.

    One needs patience to get the rewards – sitting and waiting, but I tend to hustle along when walking. Sightings are more likely when stopped for coffee and munchies.

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  2. Hi Conrad, I’ve taken some okay bird pictures over the years – along with many more terrible ones, and literally hundreds of empty branches where a birds had been sat only seconds earlier. Thankfully, with digital cameras, we no longer have to pay to have our mistakes developed! But I had none of the three varieties included in the post; so I borrowed from the experts, which I think is fine, as long as you acknowledge the source.

    And you’re right about patience: occasionally, out and about, we bump into a local chap who’s a serious bird photographer but doesn’t walk very far (partly because of the amount of equipment he carries with him). A couple of winters ago he waited under a tree for five hours, in miserable weather, hoping to get shots of a bird about which he’d received a tip off; the bird never showed up. Next day he returned, waited for another three hours until his patience was rewarded and he got “a handful of decent ones”. That level of commitment would be beyond me.

    Happy new year

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  3. I like watching the birds while I’m out walking but rarely bother to try to take a photo; they’ve always flown before I’m ready. A couple of days ago in Snowdonia I disturbed a flock of, maybe, Fieldfares or Redwings. They were thrush shaped and in a flock of at least two dozen but they had the sun behind them and kept moving every time I tried to get closer so I couldn’t be certain what they were. Frustrating!

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  4. Hi Judith, I think that to take consistently good photographs of birds you need to be patient and persistent. Any good ones I’ve taken have tended to be the odd fluke in the middle of a sequence of duff ones; which is okay with digital.

    Having the right equipment is another factor: Bob (the chap I mentioned above) regularly carries two camera bodies, at least two lenses, and a full-size tripod. That’s on top of any hot drinks, food and other supplies. I know that one of his lenses alone cost “a few thousand, second-hand” but it’s his passion and he can take a crystal sharp photograph of a robin-sized bird from a couple of hundred yards away.

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