Sunday, 7 February 2021

The First Ten Years of Birding

     I live in Cullingworth which is part of the Bradford Metropolitan District in the Pennines of West Yorkshire, this is a small village surrounded by countryside and has Hewenden Reservoir nearby.  The birding bug began in February 2011 when my son Danny was looking on the internet with things related to Queensbury and found the West Yorkshire Birding blog by B.S. who just happens to be related to us.  Well this caught Danny's imagination, he was twelve years old and had already shown an interest in birds in the garden and was eager to have a go himself.  my knowledge of birds was very limited to everyday common species such as blackbird, Blue Tit, Magpie, Robin and Starling so we had a lot to learn.

     We started off with an old set of binoculars and Danny had a smaller pair and went to Harden Moor but soon found spotting birds and getting a picture of them with our 5x zoom digital camera was not as easy as others made it look with very little to show for our efforts.  We decided to set up our own blog calling it Dannysbirds where we could log what we see and put any pictures or snaps as Danny called them as a record and also for others to see.  We also recorded weather conditions which was something that Danny had a particular interest in and was always his first topic of conversation.  The next location was St. Ives near Bingley where there was a hide and a pond to see more birds and it meant getting a book about birds so we could try to ID them.  Some of the first which were all new to us seen on the Coppice pond were Canadas, Coots, Moorhen and Gulls.

     On a visit to a local garden centre we saw some birds in a tree as we parked the car, we had never seen anything like them before, I took a couple of pictures of them.  They looked like an exotic bird from some distant land with a tuft on their heads and yellow and red markings on their wings.  We put the pictures on the computer when we got home and started looking through our book and we finally found that there was no doubt they were Waxwings!  A couple of years later I saw some in Cullingworth and was able to get some good pictures of them, not had any luck seeing them since though.

     We soon learned that Reservoirs were good locations to see birds and one of the first we went to was Leeshaw in Oxenhope.  Here with it being early spring we were able to see Lapwings doing their courtship displays and returning Oystercatchers which come from the coast inland to breed as do curlew which we saw here and other upland locations.
     On another visit to St. Ives as we drove up to the car park we briefly saw a bird in the wood that had blue on it's wing?  This stumped us and when we got home we got the bird book out and realised we had spotted our first Jay.  On the Coppice Pond we also saw our first Goosander and Tufted Duck again having to refer to our book to ID them.

     We had started off at a good time of the year which has a birding order with migrants passing through and birds returning between March and May breeding during the summer then departing in general from July to September.  Then arrivals come in the autumn to over Winter from further North before departing in spring.  One group of birds classed as Hirundines arrive in spring, we saw our first swallow in April 2011, with Sand Martins and House Martins also being in this group.

     We set up a bird feeder in the garden which brought the birds to us and included chaffinch, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Siskin and Redpoll.  Below are three examples taken over several years.

     I upgraded our digital camera to a compact 18x zoom and soon after got Danny his own, which improved our pictures.  This I later upgraded to a 30x zoom and then to my current Canon bridge camera with a 60x zoom.  We followed other bloggers and in turn got advice from them on any mistakes we made, which was frequent in them early days.  One example early on was mistaking a Lesser Black-backed Gull for a Herring Gull.  Another local birder N.K. who has the Birdbrain site also gave us good tips and advice which was much appreciated by two novice birders me and Danny.  On another occasion we thought a Black-headed Gull was a Little Gull, B.S. corrected us both times and his early encouragement was a great help.  It was the following year before we saw our first Little Gull at Hornsea Mere and on other visits later, pictured below is a good comparison of the Gulls and you can see why it's called a Little Gull.

     We continued to find new locations one of which was Redcar Tarn above Keighley, this was Danny's favourite spot and we have seen many good birds here over the years.  We also had a day out with all the family at Bolton Abbey, this has the River Wharfe running through woodland.  It was here that we saw a bird which went in to the water then under reappearing after what seemed like an age.  This amazed us and we had no idea what the bird was, when we got home out came the bird book until we found it was a Dipper.  This is a wonderful little bird which we have now seen many times and don't need to go very far to find one as nearby Hallas Beck is a good spot.  We also saw Mandarin Ducks at Bolton Abbey and it's a good place to see Grey Wagtails.

     Another migrant to look out for in spring is the wheatear and we were lucky to see these at a local hotspot near Denholme on Trough Lane.  We also took some advise from B.S. and went to Fly Flatts to look for Twite, we saw them on a couple of visits, over time though the numbers of these birds has diminished and it is very rare to see them in this former strong hold.  We also saw Wheatear in this are and it is usual to see Grouse on the moorland and Kestrels are a good bird here as well.

     We continued to extend our horizons to see different birds that are rare locally and others that the local habitat would not suit and so joined the RSPB, travelling to some of their Nature Reserves starting off with Fairburn Ings.  This is a reserve near Castleford and has several lakes where we saw Shelduck and gadwall for the first time, and in a more wooded area we saw a Reed Bunting.
     To improve our knowledge and meet other local birders we joined Bradford Ornithological Group (BOG) and met some of them on a walk at Raw Nook Nature Reserve.  The walk was led by M.P. and he gave us a great tip, try and learn the bird calls which will both help you ID them and locate them, we have had a lot of success following this advice over the years.
     Another RSPB Nature Reserve we went to shortly after was Blacktoft Sands near Goole which part of the Humber Estuary and has several Lagoons surrounded by Reed beds.  Here we saw Shoveler and Tree Sparrow for the first time.  One notable bird we were delighted to see at Blacktoft Sands was the Avocet which is the emblem of the RSPB.  The Avocet was later seen at another RSPB reserve at Leighton Moss where they breed as the picture shows, the little chicks a real delight to see.

     In late April and early May other birds known as Waders begin arriving and Leeshaw and another local Reservoir Leeming have been good for spotting these including Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Golden Plover.  In the skies above these and other locations Swifts return, a bird that constantly flies only stopping when it breeds at it's nest locations.

     We initially found it difficult to ID Golden Plover as they were always a long way from us but we found a location Moorside lane in Oxenhope where they congregate every spring.  This gave us a good view of them and to get some pictures, sadly due to a change to the habitat they no longer come here.  The BOG members only site at a local Reservoir has been good to see Dunlin and again get some pictures.

     Some birds you're not going to see locally and so you have to travel to the coast for sea birds, the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs on the East coast of Yorkshire is the ideal location to do this.  The favourite for many here is the Puffin with the Gannet a huge bird bothe returning here to breed at their nest site over the Summer months.  Others returning are Kittiwake, Fulmar, Razorbill and Guillemot.

     We joined another BOG walk to Ogden Water led by C.K. in late May 2011 and had a good walk round the Reservoir and up to the Giant's Tooth.  This took us to some different habitats seeing curlew, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Skylark among others and seeing our first Spotted Flycatchers.  The highlight though was when we walked up a track to see our first Cuckoo with a second more elusive bird present.  The sound of the Cuckoo is a great sign of the Summer and we have been lucky enough to see them on Harden Moor over the years.

     The discovery of new birds kept going for example the Tit family, Blue & Great were quite common but we soon added Long-tailed and Coal Tit.  Some are very similar Marsh Tit and Willow Tit taking some sorting out, finally completing the set in England with the bearded Tit.

     Other arrivals we saw in Spring were from the Warbler family having good success on Harden Moor, some are similar and their song helps to ID them such as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Garden Warbler.

     Blackcap & Whitethroat can be seen but Grasshopper Warbler can usually be heard reeling and occasionally you might see one, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler are again difficult to find but you can travel to Nature Reserves such as Leighton Moss to see them.  The Cetti's Warbler has also been spreading North and one was recently seen on the BOG members Stockbridge Reserve.

     After joining BOG we went along one Sunday morning to meet S.R. at the members Stockbridge Nature Reserve, where we were made welcome and given some pointers as to what we could see.  The Kingfisher was great to see here along with Water Rail during Winter, we also got good pictures of Kingfisher along the canal at Dowley Gap.

     We enjoyed going on walks with other BOG members one of these was to Denholme Clough in August 2015 led by M.D.  We saw a good selection of birds and the call of the Redstart was highlighted before it was spotted in the distance.  This came in useful the next day when we heard the call on Harden Moor where we located a Redstart as a result.  Another good local find on the walk was a Green Sandpiper on the banking at Doe Park Reservoir, we have had good views of these at other Nature Reserves.  At the end of Summer as migrants pass through on their return journey South we have seen Spotted Flycatcher at Denholme Clough.

     Another good location we found was Yeadon Tarn here we had good success seeing returning Common Tern in Spring.  It had a good variety of species and as Autumn came Pink-footed geese were seen flying over and Fieldfare and Redwings returned to over Winter.  Also Pochard and Goldeneye spent time here through the Winter months.

     Rapters and Owls are two more groups of birds we encountered finding some locally and having to travel to Nature Reserves for others.  Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Perergrine Falcon, Buzzard and Red Kite have all been seen locally, others we have missed out on but you've always got possibilities in the future.  Marsh and Hen Harrier have been seen at Nature Reserves, Little Owl is the most visible locally with barn, Tawny and Short-eared also seen with others yet to see.

      Sometimes you can stumble on great local events, we did this not long after we had started in January 2013. We rolled up to Leeshaw Reservoir and found 35 Barnicle Geese on the water, a rare event locally.  We informed B.S. who put the word out and many local birders were able to see them after relocating the birds in the surrounding fields.

     A couple of years later there was another great event when B.S. found 239 Whooper Swans on Mixenden Reservoir in the Halifax area.  He again put the word out and we among many other local birders were able to enjoy this wonderful spectacle.

     Rare birds pass through the local area from time to time and when a birder finds them the word is put out for others to enjoy.  We have seen a few of these including Red-breasted merganser, Dotterel and Great Northern Diver.  Some rare Gulls pass through the area with BOG member K.M. being particularly good at spotting them.  We've seen Caspian Gull, Iceland Gull and Mediterranean Gull following some of his finds and others at Redcar Tarn.  Another bird that passes through in the Summer is the Common Scooter, we've seen these at Ogden and Leeshaw Reservoirs.

      One of the best sites we've been to in West Yorkshire is Swillington Ings which has been taken over by the RSPB calling the site St. Aidens.  There are many birds we've seen here including Black-necked Grebe, Garganey, Bittern, Spoonbill and Cetti's Warbler.  These are just a few of the many birds that can be seen at this location.

     It has been a great pleasure discovering birds mentioned above over the last ten years and one of the best things to see are birds with their young, here are three examples.

     In the last few years Danny has drifted away from birding and so I have maintained his blog and my interest remains as strong as ever and I'm sure he'll return to birding in the future.  We now have seen 143 species of bird in the BOG area and a further 37 on trips around England, which is quite an advance on the half dozen or so we knew ten years ago.  Looking forward the annual siting of birds arriving back through and in to the area is still exiting, especially watching for those first views of the year.  There is still much for me to learn about birds and plenty new ones to see in the years ahead.  If you have enjoyed reading about birds and seeing some of the above pictures why don't you give it a go on your next walk, enjoy the countryside, listen to and watch out for those birds.
Good Luck to all who try.


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