Late December 2016 – early January 2017 – The Festive Season   Leave a comment

It’s a bit late in the New Year to be reminiscing about Christmas but as usual I’m running late with blog updates, so here is a short account of our activities over the ‘Festive Season’.

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Don’t we scrub up well! The first and only formal Christmas party we attended this year was on the 17th in Bournemouth with the Phoenix Organisation (formerly Nexus), the organisation through which Margaret and I met. I had been ill for about a week beforehand so we did little more than enjoy the meal, have a token dance and leave.

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For Christmas we all went to Margaret’s daughter Anita and her husband John’s place in Maldon, Essex. Kara was already there, we arrived on the 22nd and Janis and Amber arrived on the 23rd. On Christmas Eve we all went for a rather chilly walk near Bradwell-on-Sea at the mouth of the Blackwater Estuary. L-R Kara, Amber, John, Margaret, Janis and Anita.

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Birding-wise it wasn’t too exciting with just this flock of Brent Geese near the car park and a few common waders along the shore ….

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…. but there was an interesting chapel built in 654 AD by Cedd a bishop from Lindisfarne in Northumbria using stone from an earlier Roman fort.

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The rather sparse interior is still used for regular services.

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Many houses and gardens near Anita and John’s house in Maldon were suitably (over) illuminated for Christmas ….

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…. but we had to laugh at this illuminated snowman that appeared to be about to jump to its death …..

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…. compounded by fact that the inflatable Santa below had already hung himself.

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On Christmas morning it was time for the grand present opening ceremony. Janis looks particularly delighted with hers.

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Amber was given some goggles that convert your mobile phone into a VR experience. Kara is clearly enjoying her sister’s present ….

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…. and so for that matter, was her grandmother.

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Having turned his double garage into a ‘man cave’, John was most pleased to receive this sign for Christmas.

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For Christmas dinner we were joined by John’s sister Lois and her family for a slap-up feast in the ‘man-cave’. Clockwise from the left: Amber, Margaret, John, Anita, Lois, her husband Gavin, their son Lyle, Lyle’s girlfriend Heather, their daughter Shan, Janis and Kara. This must be the first year when I haven’t eaten any turkey over the whole Christmas period.

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As they were almost hidden in the last photo here is a better shot of Lyle and Heather.

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And here Shan assisting Janis’ with a selfie.

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Usually after a large Christmas dinner everyone falls asleep during the Queen’s speech, but Anita kept us busy with a series of party games such as this ‘card blowing’ contest where the object was to get the card to balance on the edge of the table without falling to the floor – much harder than it sounds.

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…. but one of the funniest games was the ‘twerking contest’. Small baubles were placed in a box with a hole and tied to your waist. The aim was to knock out as many baubles as possible just by hip action.

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On Boxing Day morning I went to nearby Abberton Reservoir to see a drake Ring-necked Duck (on the left), a rare visitor from America.

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I was pleased to see four Smew on the reservoir including this stunning drake. They occur occasionally as far west as Dorset but the majority of wintering Smew are found in the south-east of the UK.

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This Ring-necked Duck probably hatched in Canada or the northern USA, the Smew in Scandinavia or Siberia and the Pochard from eastern Europe or western Russia yet all come together in one photo in Essex.

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On the 27th we headed north to my brother’s in Derbyshire, an early start helped us to avoid the traffic. We stopped at my University friend Di’s place in Breedon-on-the Hill (centre of the photo with her husband Steve). Her daughter Hannah, husband Karl and daughter Mai were staying and it was great to see Hannah who I haven’t had a chance to speak to for many years and meet Karl and Mai for the first time.

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Over five year’s ago Hannah’s dad, my University housemate Clive was tragically killed in a motorbike crash. I was surprised how like her father she now looks, which of course brought back how much I miss Clive.

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I came to Beeley, a small village in the Peak District, in early December to see a Dusky Thrush, a very rare vagrant from eastern Siberia. The thrush was still there on so I took Margaret to see it.

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The residents of Beeley have been praised by birders for their warm welcome, something that doesn’t always happen when a rarity is found in a residential area. The bird is now showing just outside the village and the number of birders arriving is much reduced but even so residents will probably be glad when it migrates in the spring.

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There have been a reasonable number of Waxwings turning up this year, but very few have reached the south. We managed to catch up with one some ten miles to the north of Beeley but if we had got there five minutes earlier we would have seen a flock of 40!

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On the way back to Poole on the 29th we detoured to see another vagrant thrush – a Blue Rock Thrush, a bird with a wide distribution from the Mediterranean to the far East. This beautiful bird has taken up residence in a housing estate at Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire and is using roof tops as a substitute for its usual rocky mountain or coastal cliff habitat.

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A few birders are denigrating this bird, considering it an adult and therefore less likely to be a true vagrant, and saying wintering in the middle of the UK rather than the coast points to captive origin. These critics seem to mainly be twitchers who saw the Blue Rock Thrush on Scilly some 20 years ago and don’t want all these newbies catching them up – ie they are doing a bit of list protection. There is debate about its age, some consider it a first winter, and vagrancy can occur in adult birds and nobody criticised the Dusky Thrush because it was found in the middle of the country!

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When the Blue Rock Thrush was seen from certain angles its lovely blue hue faded to a dark grey. As I said before twitching rarities in urban areas can be difficult, photographing a bird on someone’s roof is one thing but on their bedroom windowsill is a different matter entirely.

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Now if Starlings were rare vagrants from Siberia then birders would go crazy for them, just look that blue sheen. But they were just considered something to photograph whilst we waited for the thrush to appear.

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We did nothing more exciting than watch TV on New Year’s Eve. The planned boat trip around Poole Harbour on New Year’s Day was postponed to the 2nd so we paid a visit to Longham Lakes before the rain set in. The first quality bird of the year was this Great White Egret, one of three that are wintering at Longham. Once a true rarity, there has been a huge increase in numbers in the last few years and now they even breed in Somerset.

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The 2nd was a much better day for our boat trip, kindly put on by our friends Mark and Mo Constantine, but compared to previous years there were relatively few quality birds in the harbour.

IMG_4383 Daniel, Ginny and Chris

There was one last event that fits in with the broad definition of the ‘Festive Season’, the annual bird race. This year I opted to do the race with my three ringing trainees L-R Daniel, Ginny and Chris. I think it would be fair to say that my team has had less birding experience than the members of the other teams, but they did extremely well and we ended up with 117 birds seen/heard during the 12 hours of the race and actually came second out of the four teams participating.

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