Welcome to the Buteo Wildlife blog, a record of some of the wildlife that we have been seeing and occasional identification articles that will hopefully be useful for those trying to learn about wildlife.

If you enjoy reading this blog, join us on one of our tours - days and weekends looking for wildlife. Visit our website for details: www.buteowildlife.co.uk
Note that tours with clients may not always feature prominently on this blog because we are unlikely to have time for photography when out with clients - and walls of text don't tend to make the most interesting posts. If there is time for a few snatched photos they may not always be of the highest quality - but we'll use them anyway!

To try and keep posts in chronological order they may sometimes be given earlier dates/times than when they are actually posted. Apologies, for this - it's not meant to mislead anyone (and we will try to avoid this happening too often).

21 May 2012

Raptors at Upshire (8 May 2012).

I spent a couple of hours at Fernhall Lane today, an excellent place to spend a bit of time when you don't want to be too active. It's a great place for birds of prey with views across towards Galleyhill Wood and up to Copped Hall. The highlight today was a Honey Buzzard with a supporting cast of 6 Common Buzzards and a Hobby.

International Dawn Chorus Day (6th May 2012).

A 4.30 am start time for a bird walk always seems unlikely to be attractive to many people, but dawn chorus walks always seem to be popular. This year I was joined by 15 early risers for a walk in the River Lee Country Park.

Nightingales and Robins could be heard singing from the car park while people were getting themselves ready, and they were soon joined by a couple of Blackbirds. This meant that right from the start we were able to listen to the most famous British songbird, as well as the far commoner Blackbird and Robin which I personally think have far nicer songs – if not quite as loud and striking as the song of the Nightingale.
During the morning we were able to listen to and compare the songs of various different species, including those that are often confused with each other, such as Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler, and the very similar Blackcap and Garden Warbler. We also had the opportunity to listen to the songs that readily help to identify species pairs like Chiffchaff & Willow Warbler, and Common Whitethroat & Lesser Whitethroat, species which can otherwise be difficult to separate.

Try listening to the linked recordings below. These have been linked from a website with a large database of songs/calls of European birds (all those linked were recorded in the UK, some from the site where this walk took place - though not during the walk!). Please let us know if you find these links broken.

Sedge Warblers tend to sound 'angry', almost argumentative, with frequent sudden changes in both the speed and strength of delivery. Reed Warblers on the other hand sound almost like they are singing away quietly to themselves.

Blackcap and Garden Warbler song can sometimes be so similar that even experienced observers can find them difficult to tell apart - especially early in the spring when they haven't been heard for a while. Blackcap song tends to be more varied, with frequent changes in pitch, Garden Warbler song is usually flatter and less variable. The real difficulty comes when Blackcaps are singing quietly, especially when they are in sub-song!

Of course we didn’t concentrate only on the birdsong, and took the opportunity to look at other birds and wildlife while we were out, which included brief views of a Sparrowhawk and Muntjac Deer, as well as Shoveler and the now expected Egyptian Geese.

I had already agreed to lead a second walk, this one on behalf of the Lee Valley Regional Park and due to begin at 10.30, so rather than going away and coming back I stayed on site and continued birdwatching – accompanied by one of the participants from the dawn walk and a another lady who we invited to join us.
Most of the time was spent watching over 70 Acres Lake from the viewing platform on the east side, from where we were able to watch the activity without moving from the spot. Recently arrived migrant Hobbies, Swifts, Swallows, and House Martins were hawking for insects over the lake, and Common Terns were actively fishing in the lake and nearby river channel – harassed by the nesting Black-headed Gulls when ever they caught a fish. Nearby two secretive species, Cetti’s Warbler and Nightingale were seen in lakeside willows.
At one point a low pass by a Hobby flushed many of the birds on one of the islands, including two Yellow Wagtails that had previously been feeding unseen amongst low vegetation.
Also seen briefly were two Bar-tailed Godwits, which flew through low over the lake heading north-east. Knowing the area I guessed that they were likely to drop in to feed at the area known as “The Goosefield”, where a number of shallow pools had been created with passage waders in mind. A walk up there proved this to be the case, and we were able to watch them feeding at the edge of one of the pools. One was in near full breeding plumage, the other was in duller non-breeding plumage ('phone-scoped' shots below).

The second walk of the day followed a very similar route to the dawn one, with similar birds seen and heard. The real dawn chorus experience was obviously lacking, but even so there were still some birds singing – and those present on the second walk had the opportunity to see the godwits that had arrived after the earlier walk had finished.

Spring at RSPB Rainham Marshes (2 May 2012).

It's amazing what a difference a bit of decent weather makes both to the birds and the pleasure of getting out and seeing them. Spring had certainly come to the Reserve today with 4 Greenshanks, 5 Redshanks, a Whimbrel, 2 Curlews and a Common Sandpiper all on Aveley and Target pools. There were also 12 Northern Wheatears and, I found three of the 13 Yellow Wagtails which had been reported.
Yellow Wagtails are now an uncommon migrant, and scarce breeding species in the London area
(This one was photographed previously in the Lee Valley)

A day in the Lee Valley (30 April 2012).

On one of the rare dry days recently I gave the Lee Valley a bit of a bash starting at Fishers Green where there were 6 Nightingales singing round Fishers Green Island and I finally managed to catch up with a Garden Warbler. A Hobby was flying around and a Cuckoo was calling.

I then went north to Amwell where the drake Garganey was showing very well from the viewpoint. The pair of Oystercatchers are nesting on the island and there were also a couple of Redshanks and a Common Sandpiper around the water's edge. Two Little Egrets were present and 6 Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk were seen in flight. I also saw my first Holly Blue of the year.

The Peak District, 24 April 2012

On a visit to our daughter at university in Buxton, my wife Jan and I had a walk in the Goyt Valley. What a stunning area the Peak District is. We didn't have all that long so only did a bit of it but we found 2 cracking male Pied Flycatchers and had 4 or 5 Red Grouse and a Short-eared Owl. There were several Curlews flying around giving their beautiful bubbling call and we saw a couple of Wheatears and a Stonechat.
A male Red Grouse (photographed in Scotland a couple of years ago).

A local birder that we met said that the Redstarts and Wood Warblers weren't in yet but that Ring Ouzels were holding territory. We failed to find a Dipper, unfortunately, but I have a feeling we'll be going back there.

Maybe we'll organize a tour to take in the various excellent birding sites in the country's first national park next year.

9 May 2012

London Wild Birdwatch, London Wetland Centre (20th – 22nd April 2012).

I had volunteered to help out with this weekend event, acting as one of the ‘Guides in the Hides’ to help show visitors the birds, help with identification, and provide some information.
This Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve, which has been developed with wildlife in mind on the site of the Barn Elms Reservoirs, is another one of the ‘gems’ found within the urban sprawl of Greater London. The various shallow pools provide ideal habitat for a variety of waders and waterbirds, and the extensive vegetation around them is good habitat for a number of different warbler species as well as other wildlife.

The above view was taken from the Tower Hide which gives good views over much of the reserve including an artificial nesting bank designed for, and used by, Sand Martins. The building to the right in the photo is Charing Cross Hospital which is used by one of Londons breeding pairs of Peregrine Falcons. A web camera was set up to view the nest this year (check the WWT's London Wetland Centre website for details).

Over the course of the weekend I saw a wide variety of different wildlife, including Peregrine Falcon, Sparrowhawk, Yellow-legged Gulls, Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Little Ringed Plovers,  a late Jack Snipe, Ring-necked Parakeets, Wheatears (including one bright male showing characteristics of the Greenland race), Water Voles, Common Lizards, Orange Tip and other butterflies, and various flowers. A selection is shown below:
A male Sparrowhawk which spent a while sat on a fence near the Tower Hide.
What was presumed to be the same bird was later seen
taking a Sand Martin near the nesting bank.

Ring-necked Parakeets - among Londons noisiest new residents!
The pink and black neck ring is seen on adult males only.

Two very different plants with bright yellow flowers were in bloom, Marsh Marigolds (top),
at the edge of wet areas, and Cowslips in grassy areas by the paths around the reserve.

Common Lizards could be found basking in undisturbed sunny spots
from which they could quickly disappear into cover if any danger threatened 
(log piles were ideal). 

8 May 2012

Minsmere 12 April 2012

On a day of April showers we visited the RSPB's flagship reserve at Minsmere. On our first view of the Scrape we were surprised to find that it has become totally dominated by Black-headed Gulls. They were everywhere! The first bird of interest turned out to be one that we couldn't tick as it was the Greater Flamingo, nicknamed Fiona, who has been around for quite a time having taken a break from her life at Marwell Zoo. Another species very much in evidence was Barnacle Goose of which there were several pairs.
Viewing the Scrape from the various hides we found Mediterranean Gulls, a few Sandwich Terns and a male Pintail. There were a few waders with 25+ Avocets,Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and a single Black-tailed Godwit. We also managed to see a cracking male Bearded Tit, albeit briefly.
A male Bearded Tit (photographed elsewhere).

After lunch and a heavy shower we made our way round via the Bittern Hide to Island Mere. At the former we managed to get a view of a Bittern and another from Island Mere. We had heard 2 booming as we went round the Scrape in the morning. Altogether there must have been over 10 Marsh Harriers flying around and we had close views of 3 Red Deer hinds in the woodland.

A brief visit to Dunwich Heath before starting for home provided prolonged views of a very showy male Dartford Warbler which performed for us for several minutes.

7 May 2012

Regents Park (10th April 2012).

A day spend in central London gave me the opportunity to pay an evening visit to Regents Park. Like some of the other central London Parks there can be a surprising amount of wildlife present, despite the number of people (and today, despite the frequent showers!).
Water-birds around the lake were the most obvious species, particularly the Grey Herons which can be ridiculously tame. Several pairs nest in a heronry on one of the islands in the lake, and the birds from this heronry can sometimes be seen competing with various ducks and Feral Pigeons for scraps of bread thrown, or dropped, by visitors.

Other species can also be very approachable in the park, mainly common species such as this Woodpigeon, which was feeding unconcerned only feet away from a busy path:

‘Wild’ corners provide suitable habitat for a few breeding pairs of warblers, such as Blackcap, as well as feeding sites for passage migrants.
Both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing near this area.

Introduced species are also very noticeable in the park, including Ring-necked Parakeets, Red-crested Pochard and Mandarin Duck, all of which have self sustaining naturalised populations in London. There is a collection of captive wildfowl species in the park as well, so not all of the wildfowl that can be seen are free living!
A pair of Red-crested Pochard flying over the lake, and a Mandarin drake at the lakes edge.