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Champions Of The Driveway

  • Sat 4th Apr, 2020

At Yorkshire Coast Nature we try to take on as many good causes as possible, raising money and awareness to benefit wildlife is close to our heart. Here are two stories from Margaret and Richard who were birding to help save eagles on the 31st March 2020.

Margaret Boyd’s Story

A great cause, a birding challenge, movement restrictions, what else was needed to encourage me to take part in this global event to highlight the plight of Europe’s steppe eagles? The rules of the global challenge are that there are no rules, as everyone’s restrictions and circumstances are different. Champions of the Flyway (COTF) who normally take on a 24-hour bird race in the Negev desert in Israel have changed this year’s event to allow anyone in the world to take part in their own back yard! Like much of my birding over the past 20 years I have other restrictions that limit the time I can spend in the field; job, house & family, so my rules were to see as many different species either in or from my property whenever I had the opportunity to do so.

An early start and the first bird on the list was the shrill, repetitive song of a song thrush, later in the day I was able to establish that we have two singing males within our garden which is great news. Looking out of the window whilst getting the household moving for their various daily commitments, I easily spotted common blackbird, robin, great tit and dunnock all around the feeders and bird table.

Common Blackbird © Richard BainesCommon Blackbird © Richard Baines

Immediately in front of the house there have been a pair of robins and a pair of dunnock over recent weeks and I suspect they are both nesting in the large mahonia bush. Another male robin has put up several challenges to the resident male with some spectacular fights taking place; the birds extend their legs and battle with their feet for several minutes before they split up and one retreats. In this area of East Yorkshire, we are fortunate to have some very good local populations of tree sparrow and my garden is one of those, with several pairs nesting either in the dedicated nest boxes or under the eaves. House sparrows seem to prefer the front garden as they split their time between the garden and the farmyard across the road, another for the list. The tree sparrows dominate the feeders for much of the time but once they left then it was time for blue tit and coal tit to join the great tits. On the ground now woodpigeon, Eurasian wren and chaffinch were feeding on the spilt food under the bird table and strutting into the garden our resident male pheasant.

Tree Sparrows on the garden feeders © Margaret BoydTree Sparrows on the garden feeders © Margaret Boyd

I was able to give myself a bit of time before starting some home working and a walk around the garden and into our horse paddock extended my list considerably. Overhead a flock of 15 common gulls and several herring gulls, a flock of common starlings and several carrion crows all heading in the same direction, no doubt to the surrounding arable land. Jackdaws and a pair of pied wagtails were collecting insects in the field, joining them a rook, not a regular bird here. Looking up again on hearing Canada geese I also saw a pair of stock dove, I was to see collared dove later, on the bird table. Our boundary has an established native hedge, home to yellowhammer, Eurasian magpie, European goldfinch and my first singing European greenfinch for the year. To my delight I also found that is home to a roosting little owl, a bird that was my nemesis for a long time in my local area, so to see it fly out, undulating and with rounded wings was the highlight of the day. Whilst chatting with the neighbour I added greylag goose and long tailed tit. 30 species before 9am and my husband had also seen a red legged partridge retreating from the garden.

Pied Wagtail © Margaret BoydPied Wagtail © Margaret Boyd

Back outside after work and lunch and immediately on to a pair of displaying buzzards followed by a distant pair of mallards and a flock of feral pigeons. I spotted the resident kestrel hovering above the adjacent field, with two singing Eurasian skylarks and a displaying northern lapwing all whilst I tried to shoot goals at my son! Cycling with my daughter for her daily exercise, we came across a magnificent male Eurasian sparrowhawk and my first chiffchaff of the year, but neither near home so I couldn’t count them. By now the family required more attention and as I desperately tried to track down the barn owl that I can often see from my bedroom window I heard my last bird of the day, a mistle thrush.

So, without spending the whole 24 hours outside and only counting birds from my property I was very pleased with a total of 37, even with some notably omissions; great spotted woodpecker and reed bunting. I think the grey heron spotted in the field on April 1 as I opened the curtains was surely just an April fool!

Richard Baines Story

After moving to Haxby near York in 2018 I have been keeping a tally of birds seen and heard in and from the garden. My current total stands at 68 species. Early in March this year fellow YCN guide and COTF staff member Mark Pearson told me about their new driveway birding day. I normally don’t need an excuse to stare at the sky from our garden so I enthusiastically agreed before Mark could finish his story.

My first bird was a common blackbird singing heard from my bed at 0520. I am ashamed to say I then fell blissfully back to sleep and woke up in a panic at 0715! Two hours missed! Ahhh!! I rushed outside and immediately scored three great garden birds; mistle thrush singing, chiffchaff and best of all a flyover shelduck; a garden tick! My partner Jo quickly filmed me to help promote the day and I was back on track.

Male Eurasian Bullfinch © Richard BainesMale Eurasian Bullfinch © Richard Baines

Our garden is small but located close to two old brick ponds surrounded by woodland so we can hear many birds from over the road. This helps enormously as birds are attracted to the ponds. Our favourite birds on the feeders in the garden are long-tailed tit and bullfinch. Luckily the Eurasian bullfinches put on a great show but since the blue tits have bullied them off the feeders it’s been a no-show for the long-tailed tits. Despite that I did mange to strain my ears and hear their lovely slurping call from deep in the woods.

Common Buzzard © Richard BainesCommon Buzzard © Richard Baines

After ticking off all my usual common species miraculously at 1315 the sun came out cue raptors. We have a pair of breeding common buzzard and at least one pair of Eurasian sparrowhawks nearby. It didn’t take long for them to appear. The two buzzards put on a great show and even started displaying. Three sparrowhawks then joined in, an urban raptor fest!

Eurasian Sparrowhawk displaying over Haxby, York © Richard BainesEurasian Sparrowhawk displaying over Haxby, York © Richard Baines

For the next five hours my eyes were glued to the sky. 24 Common Gull circled overhead migrating on the warm air. A good day tick. The next good bird was a northern lapwing over at 1603, great-black-backed gull at 1627, the usual greylag goose flew in at 1701 and had a big scrap with the local male mute swan. Three fieldfare flew over at 1722 and my final bird a calling tawny owl at 1803. My biggest miss was chaffinch and guess what spent the day on my feeders on the 1st April…

A final total of 37 species exactly the same as Margaret! And two new garden birds; shelduck and lapwing. I had thoroughly enjoyed being tied to the driveway and most importantly raising awareness and money for the conservation of steppe eagles #COTF20. To find out more about this amazing organisation CICK HERE. To donate and help steppe eagles CLICK HERE.

Richard Baines and Margaret Boyd

Yorkshire Coast Nature