Lock Down Wildlife

Since lock down I have been enjoying nature and birding from the garden.  I joined the BTO Garden Bird Watch, which due to lockdown is now free membership.  I have been recording the birds, mammals, insects in our garden and using a camera trap to record the activity throughout the night.  Was interesting to see a Magpie pick-up some bread, take it to the bird bath to make it wet and then eat some before flying off I presume to its nest with the rest.   Over the past 8 weeks I have recorded 18 different species of bird with my Greenfinch being my favourite actually in our garden.

This sunburst shows the reporting rate of the communities of common birds recorded in my garden

We have been building a nature friendly garden with different plants that flower throughout the year, plus have bug hotels, area of long grass, leaf and wood piles, compost heap, pond, bird bath and feeders.  In our bird feeders we leave out sun flower hearts, meal worms, fat balls and occasionally food scraps.  The Carrion Crow likes the chicken leg bones and I caught it on video flying off with them.  Many of the species of bird that I have seen in the garden have used the bird bath including a Jay and a Chiffchaff.

I now have Nocmig (nocturnal migration) equipment to record bird song as they fly over the house.  I leave the microphone out, then analyse the data looking though the sonogram and listening for bird calls.  It is easier to look for birds viewing the sonogram as I can flick through looking at the patterns. 

Grey Plover Sonogram

I have had some surprises of birds fly over garden that I did not expect such as Greenshank, different Plovers, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Scoter, Coot and Moorhen.  These birds normally are found on large bodies of water such as a Chafford Gorges or the Thames. 

Birds migrate in April as we change seasons and May onwards is the breading season.  I found that birds have different migration calls than they do during the day, such as a female Cuckoo.  There is a group of about 30 of us that share information and knowledge which has helped me learn about the different calls.   

I have a moth trap that has a special bulb that attracts moths towards the trap at night.  The above is a Compact 20w Skinner Trap that I have which runs off of a battery so I can take it to different places unlike mains powered traps. 

I have been catching moths in the trap and with sweep net then putting them in pots so that I can identify them.  Last year I caught my first Elephant Hawk moth which was very exciting.  Recently in the garden I have had Treble bar, Brimstone, Angel Shades, plus many more.  Also I have a bat detector and had a Common Pipistrelle fly over the garden whilst I was moth trapping.

The 3rd May was international dawn chorus day and my dad & I started at 4am on our bikes going to Grays and Warren Gorges.  This time of year birds are calling for mates, plus announcing their presence guarding their territory, if you get up early it is the best time to hear many bird songs.  We managed to see and hear over 50 species of bird, the most surprising was Shelduck that dropped into the water.  We had Song Thrush, Robin and Blackbirds as they were the first to wake up, then the Warblers such as Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and Blackcap joined in.  It was nice to be out with no-one else around listening to the bird songs. 

Sunrise Dawn Chorus Chafford Warren Gorge

I have been going out on my bike whilst also bird watching to Rainham Marshes, Chafford Gorge and Davey Down.  I’ve been using MiMove App to record the trips that I have been making.  The highlights have been a singing Firecrest and Garden Warbler at Davey Down.  Also have had Sparrow Hawk, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel and Tawny Owl.  At Rainham I located a Great Tit nest in a hole in a pole at a bike restriction gate, which was unexpected.

On Saturday 16th May I took part with a group of likeminded friends from Orkney, London, Oxford, Norfolk, Wales, Devon and Cornwall on a 24 hour garden bird watch.  It was interesting to see the different types of birds that were seen throughout the country.  One had 300 puffins flying off shore, whilst another had a badger visit his garden, plus Bee Eater, Short Eared Owl, Great and Artic Skua’s were also seen.  My best was a Spotted Flycatcher, Cuckoo, Peregrine Falcon, Greenfinch & Goldfinch either heard or seen from the garden. 

Bug hunting has also been another activity that I have been doing in the garden and at the back of my house.  I’ve been using a camera with a macro lens, plus a handheld microscope to get detailed look at what I have found.  I have used my friends, books and the internet to identify different species, including bees, beetles, weevils, butterflies, spiders and other insects.  I have found rare species including glow worm larvae and a Xerolyosa Nemoralis (Spider on found in south east England).  One of my favourite finds was a Green Hairstreak Butterfly.

I have found over 250 different species during lockdown but my actual list is over 350 for the garden and out the back of our house.  Throughout the whole of lockdown from the garden I have managed 80 species of birds, if I include bike rides I’ve seen 110 different species of birds.  The best birds that I have had are Long Eared Owl, Grasshopper Warbler, Nightingale, Little Gull and Spotted Flycatcher.

My dad set-up a fish tank for some Tadpoles so that can watch them grow and have recently started to develop legs and arms. 

We also have some Painted Lady Butterflies Caterpillars that started off very small and have grown over couple weeks and now have turned to chrysalis.  So far two of the five have emerged, I am waiting and am hoping that I witness the others emerging after their transformation. 

Nature has really helped us get through the lockdown period in our house as it is great for your mental and physical wellbeing and helps you relax. 

Best Bird Watching Experiences (so far)

Here are some of my memorable moments when bird watching. 

We joined the RSPB at Rainham Marshes as a family and have been going to the kid’s bird watching club for many years and made many friends.  This has helped with my knowledge on birds, insects and plants.  One particular day we were on a walk with Howard (who runs the KBC), in spring and heard a distinctive call of a cuckoo. We all examined the area of the call.  Second by second, minute by minute, continuing looking, someone shouted there it is with a hobby and another bird of prey. It moved into view, that’s a sparrow hawk.   So there was a hobby, sparrow hawk and a cuckoo all in the same horse chestnut tree more or less next to each other, which was phenomenal.

Northern Hawker Dragonfly

Here is a photo of a Norfolk Hawker that a hobby may eat.

One weekend we thought to go somewhere new, at Wallasea was there was a guided walk & we decided to go along.  In the car park the guide shouted Marsh Harrier with two Hobbies.  While the Hobbies were soaring around catching insects such as dragonflies the Marsh Harrier flushed up a Hen Harrier.  This was a new bird of prey for me.  The guide had been there a few hours before and there was still three Peregrine Falcons sitting on the ground waiting for a meal.  We was just about to leave the car park when a Sparrow Hawk passed over the meadow grassland.  Finally we left the car park.

There were lots of Brent Geese and also whilst we were looking for waders we saw a Buzzard circling in the distance.  After that we continued to walk down towards where they were collecting soil for the reserve and saw a Kestrel hovering.  Finally we made our way back to the car, it was a spectacular day especially for birds of prey.


Picture of an Avocet

The first time I saw a Barn Owl at Rainham Marshes along with other interesting wildlife was at a late night opening.   We were at the Butts hide just in time to see a Temminck’s stint and was fascinated how small it was.  Then we walked towards where the barn owl box was near the woodland.  Approaching there was a kestrel hovering hunting for food, like voles and mice.  Suddenly a peregrine falcon the fastest animal in the world, dropped from a pylon, accelerated, speeding from one side of the reserve to the other disappearing into the distance in seconds.

Barn Owl.JPG

Picture of a Barn Owl that I held

We waited hoping to see the Barn Owl, but it did not appear and due to time we had to continue walking round the reserve.  In the Cordite store area we heard a strange screeching noise and I recognised it as being the owl.  I darted as fast as I could round the corner and ran up a viewing platform.  When reaching the top, the barn owl elegantly landed on a post in front me and my dad.  It then took off and I chased alongside it running towards the centre.  When I walked in I had the biggest beaming smile and my friends knew that I had seen my first Barn Owl.


Picture of a Peregrine that I was lucky to hold at Chafford

Our nearest Essex Wildlife Trust is the Chafford Hundred Gorges.  I like to visit them and have done many of the events that they run.  On one visit whilst walking into Warren Gorge down the zig zag, a brown plumage bittern flew in and landed.  I was so surprised and was jumping with joy.  We continued to walk round and found many slow worms, which my brother loves.  Whilst walking along one of the banks, I heard a splash and saw a Water Rail burst from the bank crossing to the other side.  When we got back to the centre we were so excited telling the staff and writing what we had found on their board.  Later I explained to my nanny and granddad what we had seen informing them that the bittern is a bird that is very difficult to see and how rare it is.

Slow Worm

Slow Worm at Chafford Warren Gorge