Friday, 7 October 2016

Birding around Gnadenwald, Absam and Innsbruck, Austria

Allan and I were invited by Swarovski Optik to visit their factory in Absam, Austria, staying at the Speckbacherhof in Gnadenwald (less than a 10 minute drive away) for a few days in early October. Arriving in Munich airport on the 2nd, the weather was unfortunately dreadful which made a long coach journey to Austria feel even longer, with very few birds spotted on the way. Arriving late afternoon a the hotel also didn't leave any time for birding on the day, so an early start was decided upon for the 3rd before the factory tour.

A short walk up the wooded mountains in front of the hotel from 6.30am didn't reveal too much, in fact Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Pied Wagtail and Chaffinch were just about the only species seen, until we made our way back to the hotel for breakfast. Sitting on top of the roof of the hotel was a Black Redstart, and the Sparrows we had heard on our arrival and thought nothing of turned out to be Tree Sparrows, rewarding our efforts on a cloudy, cold morning. The clouds began to fade as we made our way to the Swarovski Optik factory, the tour and discussions providing plenty of insight in to how these products are made. A short break mid afternoon gave us a chance to sample some of the binoculars and scopes, another Black Redstart on the eco-friendly 'living roof' providing a perfect opportunity to test the clarity of the optics. A Common Buzzard and a number of House Martins in front of the mountains tested the ability of the telescopes. Then out of the blue came a Nutcracker, a lifer for me, flying over our heads before shortly disappearing.

Tree Sparrow

Arriving back at the hotel around half 4 gave us the opportunity in clearer weather to get out and explore the footpaths and hotel grounds a bit more. Half a dozen Tree Sparrows were easy to photograph, as were at least 3 Black Redstarts. Our walk took us a bit further than it had in the morning, but still only 10 minutes from the hotel, where we spotted and managed to photograph another Nutcracker. Activity increased all of a sudden as we realised we had stumbled across someone's bird (and squirrel) feeders. 20 minutes here revealed numerous Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Crested Tits, Goldcrest, Nuthatches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches. A very dark Red Squirrel also entertained us with its antics. Back at the hotel from the balcony we saw a pair of Ravens, many Carrion Crows, Mistle Thrushes, a fly over Siskin, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker.

Red Squirrel
Crested Tit
A nice spot for bird watching...
Black Redstarts
Black Redstart
Tree Sparrows

The next morning we prepared our suitcases to leave, though our coach didn't depart for Munich until early afternoon. Swarovski had planned a visit to Innsbruck and weather permitting, a trip up the Nordkette mountain range in a cable car. Visibility wasn't great but the trip went ahead, and as we made our way up it was difficult to see the cable more than 50 yards ahead. At 7,500ft up, it was also pretty cold, something we hadn't planned for. A glance of a corvid flying past the cable car as we departed gave us hope though, and shortly after making our way outside we spotted 2 Alpine Choughs, flying between the mountains. Like boyish fanatics, we struggled to get any good photographs, until around 30 birds picked up from what could only have been 30 yards to the left of us, flying directly over our heads! What a magical moment it was, a lifer for both of us, and we could only laugh after spending quarter of an hour hopelessly chasing one or two birds.

Alpine Chough
Alpine Chough
Allan at the top of the mountain

The weather deteriorated once more on the coach journey north, but somewhere roughly half way between Innsbruck and Munich we did spot around 10 Great White Egrets in a field, a nice way to end the trip.

Thank you to Swarovski Optik for inviting us and to the Speckbacher hotel for their hospitality.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Summer roundup!

It's fair to say I haven't kept up with the blog this summer, for some reason it has been pushed to the back of the queue, even though I told myself I wanted to keep better records of our sightings at Feathers.

It seems this breeding season was fairly successful for most species locally, although there was certainly a shortage of House Martins and Swallows attempting to breed here. There were no sightings of Spotted Flycatchers in Spring/Summer, which have at least attempted breeding in the past 5 years. None of our Tit/Robin nest boxes were occupied this year, though once again they found other cracks and crevices around the farm to nest. The Kestrels successfully raised another brood in Salehurst Church (which also houses the Swifts), although one juvenile was taken in to care with a broken wing and another was found dead shortly after. We're not sure whether there were more than 2 juveniles, let's hope at least one made it. Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers once again provided great entertainment outside the shop, allowing for close photographs. Mixed flocks fed in the oak trees over the road, with a family of Treecreepers present in late July. The feeders on the whole remained fairly active throughout June and in to July, but the warmer weather which graced us late in to the month and is still going strong now (29° here yesterday!) caused a huge decrease in activity. As lovely as it is, we are looking forward to cooler weather returning and the feeders become busy once more.

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

Juvenile Kestrel

Juvenile Goldfinch

Juvenile Treecreeper

As we entered early Autumn, signs of migration increased. The Swifts were first to go, whereas many others are feeding up in preperation for their long journey ahead. Good numbers of House Martins have been feeding in the blue skies, joined by young Swallows. Our first sighting of a Spotted Flycatcher was on the 6th September, the same day a pair of Wheatears made a surprise visit to Parsonage Farm. This was only our second record here and our first 'from the shop'. Chiffchaffs have been singing and feeding in the sycamore tree, also enjoying the flurry of insects the warmer weather is providing. All, I'm sure, will be heading south as soon as the cold arrives.


Spotted Flycatcher

Robins have changed from their summer 'look at me' to their winter 'stay well clear' song. Lots of territory battles taking place outside the shop and in the Nature Area.

 Find our more about Feathers Wild Bird Care on our website

Our optics website can now be found at

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Owl Display, Beer & BBQ - 23rd July, Salehurst, East Sussex

On the 23rd July we will once again be hosting a family fun day, including an Owl Display from the wonderful chaps at Owls About Town and a Beer Tent & Barbecue put on by Buster's Farm Produce. Our selection of binoculars will be as always be well stocked and open for anyone to try & buy. Lots to see and do on the day, free entry and ample parking. Come and join us! Visit our website to find out more about us and how to get here.

Bird watching in Kos, Greece

Earlier this month we took a family holiday to Kos, staying near the town of Kardamena at a hotel called Akti Beach Club. By no means was this a 'birding' holiday but I did try to squeeze a bit in, along with just general bird spotting while on the bus/taxi etc. Having stayed on Rhodes (which is also part of the Dodecanese archipelago) 5 years ago, where I found very few birds, I knew roughly what to expect. For the most part we didn't leave the hotel, other than short walks around the local area, where steep rocky hills towered above the flat, dry fields. In this immediate area I found Crested Larks in reasonable numbers, lots of House Sparrows and Jackdaws, Collared Doves, House Martins, Swallows, Common and Alpine Swifts, the occasional Gull (not my speciality!), Hooded Crow and (I think) Lesser Kestrel. There were very few small birds, e.g. Warblers, Finches etc. On a couple of occasions whilst travelling I spotted a European Roller, a nice first for me but a shame I couldn't get a photo. I had researched a bit about the Island before hand but unless you're willing to visit places like Lake Psalidi outside of Kos town, don't expect to find too many birds. 

Here are a few pictures from our week away:

House Martin

Swallows in the nest

Crested Lark and House Sparrow

Crested Lark


Kestrel (Lesser?)

House Martin

Alpine Swift

Hooded Crow


Friday, 3 June 2016

Fledglings at Feathers

Sparrows, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Siskins, Starlings and Nuthatches all seen with young up to now. The Robins and Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been taking food away in bulk so should be out very soon. The timing seems to be about average this year, having had a fairly mild winter but a chilly April, pushing a potentially early season back to normal.

A few photos of youngsters so far:

Top of the agenda at the minute is suet - our premium fat balls are a hit with all the birds and are a great source of easily digestible protein, especially beneficial to garden birds when this past week has been only 15° with plenty of rain making natural food in short supply.

Binocular sales have been very good, notably in the shop as more people are trying before they buy, always advisable if you ask us. Vortex, the latest addition to our range, has been our best seller in the last month. If you are looking for a new pair of bins or know someone who is, please consider us!

Vortex binoculars in East Sussex
Swarovski binoculars in East Sussex
Opticron binoculars in East Sussex
Hawke binoculars in East Sussex
Vanguard binoculars in East Sussex
Viking binoculars in East Sussex

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

April (snow) Showers

Whereas April is normally one of the quietest months of the year for garden birds, the cold weather meant activity remained seemingly almost as high as any of the winter months. Many parts of the country had decent amounts of snow late on in the month, with a few snow showers here in East Sussex. That's not to say we didn't have a few fine days, but with temperatures generally not reaching much above 10°, with even some frosty nights, the birds remained active throughout April.

Snow at Feathers, 26/04/16
Just over a week after the snow, temperatures soared to above 20°, as much as 26 at times, bringing the expected drop off in feeder activity. None-the-less, there's still much to see and watch with most of the summer migrants back now. Here's a short video of the Cuckoo down by the river on the 14th April:

The Swifts arrived back on the 28th April, 10 days earlier than 2015s first arrival, with around 8 now resident.

House Martin numbers have been very disappointing, with the first seen here on the 4th May but still no sign of them looking to nest on the farm house this year.

One female Lesser Redpoll was in the Nature Area late in April:

The resident Buzzards put on a good show on the 5th May and our first Hobby of the year came over on the 7th:

Binocular Sales have been very good for us since before Christmas, the addition of Swarovski and Vortex in the past 6 months certainly helping. I have recently improved the shopping cart system, allowing for the different postage options and voucher codes. This month we are offering £10 off orders over £200 with voucher code MAY10 and £20 off orders over £400 with MAY20.

Our prices are very competitive, and by shopping with us you are supporting a small business!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Seeing Red

Redpoll, Redwing and Red Kite - three not so common sightings for us, but all three spotted in the past few weeks. The Redpoll (Lesser) arrived on the 26th March amongst the many Siskins and Goldfinches in the Nature Area. The initial rush to get record photographs has proved unnecessary as it is still around now, with two couples spotting it from the hide yesterday morning. Still, an unusual visitor here, though perhaps not too much of a surprise with numerous sightings locally this winter, including a few here one or twice late last year. The Redwing was in fact in the Nature Area at the same time as the initial sighting, and though not as uncommon as the rest (certainly during a cold winter or in the Autumn as they demolish the yew berries) was still a surprise given the time of year.

Last Spring, Red Kites were not an uncommon sighting in East Sussex, with the SOS receiving many reports of most likely migrants arriving back in the UK after spending the winter in warmer climes. Even here we had a period of a week or two (around late March) where we were spotting them regularly, though between then and now we have only noted one sighting on the 10th October, perhaps a bird making its way back south. Yesterday morning (12th April) a single bird graced the glorious blue sky and was soon joined by 2 Buzzards - a delight to watch and made all the more enjoyable by the long time it spent lazily soaring in the thermals, allowing for some nice views through the bins and a few record shots with the camera.

Red Kite (right) with 2 Buzzards

The feeders have quietened down significantly as anticipated; April is always a quiet month as the birds have other things on their mind, along with a more plentiful supply of natural food. Still it's one of my favourite times of the year, with longer (plus hopefully warmer) days and the arrival of the spring migrants. Our first Cuckoo was heard this morning, Chiffchaffs chiffchaffing for perhaps a couple of weeks and a couple of local Swallows, though none here yet. You can see our spring first dates here which will be updated as new arrivals turn up.

Once again, the Kestrels are inspecting the church, and once again they are getting hassle from the local Jackdaws. It never seems to put them off so hopefully we will witness this space being used once again to raise another brood.

Binocular sales have been exceptionally good for us since adding Swarovski to our range late last year, allowing us to expand very recently with the addition of Vortex optics. On Sunday 17th April I will be attending Kent Wildlife Trust's Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve for an Optics Demonstration Day, and another on Sunday 1st May at Bough Beech, so do pop along if you can.