What I’ve been getting up to in this funny period between Christmas and New Year…

This year I’ve been very lucky and managed to have time off around Christmas, it’s been absolutely fabulous! I spent Christmas back in Derbyshire and managed to catch up with plenty of friends and family as well as getting out for a spot of birding.

On Tuesday, Ken (top birder blokey and best mate from Holyhead) came to visit me and my family on the Nottingham/Derbyshire border. Ken had visited this area before, in fact I don’t think there are many places in the British Isles Ken hasn’t visited on his quest to see rare birds! This time though, it was for me and my Dad to show him our old dog-walking haunts (with a couple of additions).

I boarded the train in Matlock and met Ken and my Dad an hour later at Long Eaton train station at half past nine. From here we went to Long Eaton gravel pits, mentioned in a previous blog about a previous visit. Here our whistlestop tour got off to a great start, in less than an hour we saw 34 species:

Blue Tit
Great Tit
Reed Bunting
Green Sandpiper
Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull
Carrion Crow
Canada Geese
Red-Crested Pochard
Tufted Duck
Great Crested Grebe
Mute Swan
Grey Heron
Lesser Black-backed Gull

Moving on from this abundant location we saw House Sparrows in a hedgerow as we waited to cross the railway lines away from the pits on our way to the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trusts Attenborough Nature Reserve. Attenborough has changed dramatically since my childhood. As a good friend commented last night at her birthday dinner, there are fewer places to run around and play! This is no bad thing however, because this reserve has ben sculpted into a haven for wildfowl and is continually being improved with the addition of scrapes and the maintainance of reed beds. So the particular hidey-hole Emily was thinking of is now a fabulous lake that is home to many birds including Bittern.

Another dramatic change at Attenborough is the addition of the visitor centre and I have to applaud their efforts. They have a created an eco-friendly, aesthetically pleasing centre that attracts visitors for it’s cafe alone and that for me is really exciting because what better way to introduce families to nature than to do so inadvertantly while they sip their hot chocolates?!

We had little time for the cafe on this occasion though as we took a quick meander around catching up with tens of species of birds and adding the following to our day list:

Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Long-tailed Tit
Feral Pigeon
Common Gull
Greylag Geese
Little Grebe

Next it was time for lunch (anyone that knows me knows I am ruled by my tummy) and we headed over to the cafe at Carsington Water – an RSPB reserve. A visitor to South Stack in summer had recommended me this cafe so I thought we should check it out. It was incredibly busy when we got there, so all credit to the the staff there for their great service! After a yummy mushroom soup for me and sausage cobs for my Dad and Ken we had a quick perambulation around ‘Stone’s Island’, a peninsular jutting out into the reservoir just in front of the visitor centre. From here we added three more birds to our list:

Pied Wagtail
Meadow Pipit

With the daylight fading there was one further place I wanted to take Ken…on a hunt for Hawfinch. The place that everyone recommends is Cromford, home of the industrial revolution. This particular part of Cromford is a small collection of old mill buildings flanked by a canal and the River Derwent – very picturesque. We wandered around in the failing light and managed to pick up Jackdaws, a Mistlethrush atop a tall tree, and a Raven overhead, but we were out-foxed by the glorious Hawfinch. Still it’s one I can claim on my year list that the proliofic Ken hasn’t got :-p Before we left we peered over the bridge onto the Derwent and had a lovely encounter with a Little Grebe (or Dab Chick as my Dad calls them) catching and eating fish.

It was a fantastic day. The weather had been spectacular, we’d seen loads of birds (52) whilst hardly trying and we all got to spend the day enjoying each others company…say ahhhhhhh!

I wanted to tell you about it because we spent about six-hours going round those various places, including travelling, eating ice-creams at Attenborough and stopping for lunch and it was thoroughly enjoyble from start to finish. If you want to do the same then take part in the naturebites birdrace at the start of Feb… It’s a six hour event where you basically get to go around with your friends (or make new friends), see lots of birds and have fun. I think our casual day birding and seeing 52 species shows just how easy it can be. If you haven’t get read about the birdrace please look at the post entitled “I propose a birdrace!”.

That wasn’t the end of my birding fun this week. The follwing morning Ken and I, lead by my sister Caroline, and my almost-one-year nephew Jack, headed out to a quarry on Bealey Moor, near Matlock to look for a bird we had heard was in the area. It was bitterly cold up on the moor and Jack had the best spot snuggled up in his wooly hat against his mummy. We headed for a about 20 meters into the quarry path and lo and behold what should we see sat on top of a shrub another ten metres in front of us but a Great Grey Shrike!! Amazing! It was a particularly nice feeling that we all saw it at once and lifted our binoculars in unison. We headed back towards the road to a better view point so we could get more light on the bird – stunning! Although I hadn’t had to work for this bird (Ken dipped on thirteen of these before finally seeing one), it’s reputation preceeded it so it felt like being starstruck, like one of your idols was just sat across the way. Brilliant.

It wasn’t long before we were back in the car because we’d all gone out glove-less and our fingers were frozen. We saw a pine forest down the road to the right and started talking about Crossbills. Caroline told me she had seen a solitary Crossbill before and my response was to tell her that it’d be great if she could see both the males and the females together as they are such fantastic greens and reds, almost tropcial in appearance. We pulled up in front of the woods and once more our luck was in, a twenty strong flock of multicoloured Crossbills danced in the sky in front of us – we were giggling with excitment. After their little display they disappeared above the trees. What a magical morning?!!!

All in all I’ve had a wonderful Christmas break – thank you to all those I shared it with!

I would like to end this entry with recognition of the fact that the last battery hen was freed yesterday – a moment I’ve been anticipating since my school days. There is still more to be done to improve animal welfare but that is a fantastic leap in the right direction and should be celebrated. Whoop!

Enjoy your new year celebrations and remember that it’s the perfect time to start recording what you see out and about – a year list.

Best of luck to all you avid birders who will no doubt be hectically dashing around on Sunday trying to get your year off to a cracking start!

See you next year! X

About nature.bites.admin

Kathy is a wildlife enthusiast who loves nothing more than to inspire people about nature. She is the Trust Development Officer for the West Wales Rivers Trust, a researcher at Aden Productions and offers guided wildlife tours on Anglesey with the amazing Ken Croft. Outside of work, Kathy arranges Anglesey Marine Week in order to promote engagement in conservation. Please see the 'Wildlife Tours' page of the website for more details of how to join a tour.

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