Sunday, January 31, 2021

January Round Up

As January comes to a close a quick glance back at my daily journal revealed an interesting but unsurprising statistic. According to my home weather station, the night time temperature over the whole of the month had not risen above zero, with a top low of -8.8C. The days have also struggled to rise above freezing and snow has fallen on 12 different days, with a heavy fall coming overnight on the 8th.

Heavy overnight snow on the 8th

As you would imagine this means that all the nearby pools and ponds are frozen over and the only thing you're likely to see on them is the village youngster's ice skating or in some cases actually playing hockey. 

A section of the floodplain frozen solid

Add to this the current lockdown, which rules out any visits to the coast, plus short days with just barely seven hours of daylight and you can understand why my birding this month has been limited to river and forest walks. 

My view from the kitchen window ~ The track of the River Don shrouded in mist.

However, I do have an ace up my sleeve with stunning views from the kitchen window (scope strategically placed) of the Bennachie range and the high treetops of the local 'Green', where on the final day of the month among the Chaffinch, GreenfinchGoldfinch and Siskin a female Hawfinch took the eye! Other highlights while enjoying many hours of observation and it seems long breakfasts have included Brambling and Mealy Redpoll.

During my river walks, I've noted that Whoopers Swans which are an annual feature here feeding in the surrounding fields have begun to increase in numbers and the usual skeins of Pink-footed Geese are a delight both during the day and indeed throughout the night.

Bullfinch ~ A flock of 10+ is not uncommon

The beautiful woodland walks can sometimes be devoid of birds at this time of year, save for the many Coal Tits but occasionally you'll stumble across small groups of Crossbill and Bullfinch, the latter occasionally in double figures, which seems to be quite normal locally. 

Images of January...

One of many wonderful sunrises

Snowdrops ~ Despite the frozen ground the 1st signs of Spring

One of my walks at Don View

A Wren braves the cold

Roe Deer while out with Dazza at the weekend.

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

πŸ“– Post Lockdown Update Day 10

My first post of 2021 and once again we find ourselves under strict lockdown conditions but this time there are two subtle differences for me. Firstly we are now residing back on 'dry land' in a different country and secondly, unlike the previous lockdown spent on the canal in England during what was a glorious springtime, we're now in the darkest month of January and up here in the north-east of Scotland we'd be lucky to get just over six hours of daylight at this time of year. Also, because of the new restrictions, my almost daily jaunts to the coast are now, unfortunately 'out of bounds'. 

The view over the River Don ~ Just a short walk from home.

Staying positive, there's still plenty of local area's to explore including the nearby River Don, just a mile from the house, the Fetternear Estate, the pools at Dalmiddy Ponds and the hills of Bennachie. 

One of the local Dippers along the bank of the River Don.

So far during the lockdown, I've managed a number of walks along both banks of the nearby River Don which is running quite fast at the moment due to the snowmelt. During my visits and despite the conditions I've now managed to establish the preferred location of a pair of Dippers

A short video of my 1st ever singing Dipper.

Needless to say, I've spent lots of time watching and attempting to photograph the birds and yesterday (13th) I even managed to film one singing using my DSLR. A memorable moment, particularly in the depths of January and I can't help thinking I may well have struggled recognising the song if the bird hadn't actually been directly in front of me.

Both Goosander and Goldeneye are both regulars along the river here but despite the habitat, I've yet to record a single Grey Wagtail. In fact, It's been an interesting learning curve since moving north and in particular, the discovery that certain species I was so used to seeing in the Midlands are not commonplace or are even absent from Aberdeenshire. Examples include Nuthatch, Marsh Tit, Willow TitLesser-spotted Woodpecker, Little Owl, Green Woodpecker, Great Egret, Great Crested Grebe and even Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which move south for the winter. Come the summer I'm told that there's more chance of coming across a Blyth's Reed Warbler than a Eurasian Reed Warbler, the latter a bird I've filmed & photographed many times from the boat window! 

One of the many trails around Bennachie

The hills and tracks around the Bennachie hills provide plenty of good habitat and Crossbills are a regular feature here. I've also inadvertently flushed a few Woodcock during my walks and where the land opens out 1000s of Pink-footed Geese can be found feeding and if your patient enough to search through them you may find a Bean Goose, Snow Goose or White-fronted Goose, sadly only Greylags thus far for me! Whooper Swans pass over on occasions and later in the winter I'm told, the area is known for large groups to congregate along the river nearby, I look forward to that. 

Common Crossbills are a regular species at Bennachie 

During one of my hikes I came across a huge flock of 2/300 Chaffinch and while scanning the birds I managed to pick out at least 3 Brambling, although with the birds very mobile and hard to pin down I'm certain there were more. Bullfinch's are also in good numbers up here, one tree holding at least nineteen birds, my biggest ever count by far. Siskin is also pretty common but Lesser Redpoll is a little more scarce, but they are around. Sadly, this year thus far has not been an invasive year for Waxwings but there's still time.

Bullfinch seems to be reasonably common to the area.

Goldeneye along the River Don

Lesser Redpoll ~ Scarce but can still be found.

Always a joy to see Redwings

Siskins are commonplace around the woodlands

Friday, January 01, 2021

2020 ~ A Challenging Yet Successful Year!

On a personal note and despite all the difficulties that 2020 has brought to us all I would have to say that for me and my brilliant wife Dazza it's been a pretty successful year.

A Black Wheatear on New Years Day 2020 at Sendero Cerro de la Medialuna Mijas Spain

We actually began 2020 in Spain, having spent the Christmas and New Year period at my friend's villa in Mijas, not arriving back in the UK until January 3rd. Little did we know when visiting Sendero Cerro de la Medialuna in Mijas on New Years Day that this would be our last trip abroad for the foreseeable future, with planned visits to the US, Hungary and more trips to Spain and France all falling to COVID.

Sunset at the marina on Day 1 of Lockdown ~ I can think of worse places to be locked down!

When on the 16th March 2020 Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that all unnecessary social contact should cease we knew things were getting serious. But of course, it wasn't until March 23rd that Boris Johnson told the country that people ‘must’ stay at home and a multitude of businesses must close with immediate effect. I have to say that things changed pretty rapidly for me with the closure of Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve, where I spent many hours both birding and volunteering and our home marina locking down, meaning that all non 'liveaboard' activity should cease. In an instant life had changed quite dramatically!

A Black Tern at Napton Reservoir on day 25 of Lockdown ~ My first here in over 15 years of visiting.

That said it wasn't long before I began to take some positives from so many negatives. With the nearby Napton Reservoir now closed as a fishery and the marina closed to traffic and non-residents I found myself completing many of my permitted daily exercises without seeing a soul. The benefit of having no fishing at the reservoir also began to pay off immediately. You can read my full lockdown story HERE but suffice to stay that I managed a creditable 100 species by the time full lockdown ended, several of which I'd never seen at the reservoir in over 15 years!

Aberdeenshire Scotland

2020 was also a huge lifestyle change for us both too and it was all brought about much sooner than we'd anticipated by the pandemic! We'd purchased a property in Aberdeenshire in April 2019 and planned to rent until moving up permanently sometime in the autumn of 2021. However, with Dazza now successfully working from home due to COVID and after discussions with her colleagues it was agreed that this could now become a permanent arrangement with Dazza flying back to Birmingham for a few days every other week. Amazingly our tenants had just given notice too that they intended to leave in mid-September and so the decision was made, we move a year early in October! 

'Quidditch' Our floating home for 16 years ~ Good luck to her new owners!

It was certainly a sad moment when Dazza and I stepped foot off 'Quidditch' our cherished floating home for over 16 years but we felt the timing was right. The memories of our years aboard, particularly in the early days cruising the canals and estuaries of England and Wales will remain forever and our new adventure now begins in the heart of Aberdeenshire Scotland. Details of our new patch can be found HERE. As I knew we would, we've already fallen in love with our new way of life and of course for Dazza its a return to home ground and imparticular Aberdeen, where she was born. 

From a personal perspective and despite the difficulties the pandemic has thrown at us all this has been for Dazza and me a pretty successful, if not challenging year. Oh, and by the way, my final UK birding year-list for the year ends at 206, not a bad effort I think! HAPPY NEW YEAR!! 

A Dozen of My Many Favourite Wildlife Images of 2020...

Playing hide and seek with a Wily Weasel at the marina during lockdown

One of many Yellow Wagtails at Napton Reservoir on Day 42 of lockdown

On Day 45 of Lockdown a cycle ride to Stockton Cutting for a Small Blue butterfly.

Whooper Swans depart the Ythan Estuary at sunset ~ A magical place We've come to love!

The 1st ever Cattle Egret at Brandon Marsh ~ A wonderful but frankly 'jammy' find.

Red Grouse abound ~ Just an hours drive, my 1st visit to the Cairngorms since moving north. 

A Moutain Hare ~ An Iconic species of the Highlands.

A stunning drake Long-tailed Duck ~ On one of my 1st visits to the Ythan Estuary.

Right place, right time ~ Another early morning at Brandon Marsh.

Already an amazing memory ~ Pink-footed Geese over Bennachie from the kitchen window!

Purple Sandpipers coming to roost at high-tide ~ Girdleness Aberdeen.

Sanderling at Black Rock ~ Dazzas most favourite wader!

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