Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Caspian Gull Stevenage

In April 2017, Tom Spellar found a Caspian Gull on the main lake in Fairlands Valley, which I duly went down to see and photograph. It had been ringed in Germany (X307) the previous year and had been seen earlier in the year around the Thames and at Amwell.
It was seen again last year briefly and turned up again as a rather smart third winter bird on Sunday. Unfortunately thanks to several glasses over dinner I wasn't in a condition to visit. It was seen yesterday for much of the day before turning up in the Amwell evening gull roost so I was hopeful it would reappear again today and was happy to receive some reports late morning.
I left work a bit earlier than usual and arrived at 3.15 pm. A quick scan of the main lake revealed three Herring Gulls and the Caspian sitting on its favourite buoy. Two Great Crested Grebes, two Cormorants and a few Common Gulls were among the large number of Black headed Gulls and Canada Geese. The Caspian flew of at 3.30 heading towards the Town Centre so walked around the lake bumping into a hopeful birder and gave her the bad news. However the Caspian reappeared briefly from the north, drifted over the houses to the east and then continued south, presumably heading towards the Lee Valley.
I carried on round the and quickly checked the adjacent lake without finding anything of note, but not being dressed for the rather bitter cold wind had no intention of lingering longer than necessary. Assuming it sticks around I am hoping to get a few photos of it-I had intended to bring the camera with me today but completely forgot to pack it this morning.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Cattle Egret

Had some time off today, and after doing the shopping I popped down to Chesunt, hoping that being a weekday, the Cattle Egrets would be back on Penton Field.
There was no-one in the park when I got there at 1015, and having quickly scanned through the Black Headed and Common Gulls one Cattle Egret was found at the southern end feeding on worms. It wasn't all that approachable, but keeping my distance I managed to get a few decent shots. My 9th for Herts and the first since the (then) record flock of 8 at Stockers Lake in 1992.

Sunday, 20 January 2019


I had a couple of rough days this week, so didn't feel like going out this weekend. However, this morning I was able to spend a couple of hours locally.
I woke to a rather hard frost, possibly the worst of the winter as my very tender fuchsia fulgent has finally lost its foliage and flowers. There was even frost on the mini greenhouse. However in the sunshine it didn't feel too bad as I headed down the A10, where the car recorded -4 degrees at one point.
I spent around 40 minutes lurking in a tiny park in Cheshunt hoping the two Cattle Egrets would appear, but it turned out they had departed about an hour before I arrived. It didn't seem like ideal habitat for them but they have been in the area for two weeks now. Three Beds birders arrived but didn't stay long as I had a message from Alan Meadows that the Waxwings were back in Wicke's car par in Hertford, so I followed them.
When I arrived I found many local birders staring up at one tree in a rather busy car park, along with many bemused shoppers. The birds showed really well while I was there but were difficult to photograph at times as most were obscured by twigs and branches, and the very bright sunshine played havoc with contrast and shadows. However here's the best I got.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Yellow Browed at Tyttenhanger

Hertfordshire's 15th or so Yellow Browed Warbler was found on Friday. Two Cattle Egrets were also found that day at Cheshunt though apparently present since last weekend. As I'd seen eight Cattle Egrets in the County (though back in the early 90's, and at the time the Uk's biggest ever flock) I decided to try for my second county Yellow Browed.
As I was getting  my gear out, William arrived with Jane Free. As it was her first visit to the site we painted out the various hot spots as we walked over to the bridge over the conveyer belt where one or two locals were already present. Unfortunately though they had been there for several hours there had been no sign of the bird. Interestingly, despite assertions that the bird was on its own. the Yellow Browed appeared shortly after a flock of crests arrived. it wasn't easy to see-the fence panel on the bridge restricting the view. However we did get better views on the one occasion it reached the top of a small willow. One of the regular wintering Chiffchaffs also put in an appearance at the same time, then they disappeared. I stuck around for a while but they didn't appear again until noon, long after I had got home. Unfortunately the light was really poor and I never did get any images though many others have obtained good shots, and even video clips.
So after a very productive weekend I am a good 30+ species up on my usual total for recent Januarys and I still have a couple of weekends to go.

A Profitable Day in Rutland

This year seems to be starting off very well. It's usually fairly slow to get going, with birding restricted to a couple of trips and a few local visits in the first couple of months and so what passes for a year list is pretty low these days. I seem to spend the rest of the year playing catch up and failing badly. Last year wasn't helped by a poor start, the very cold spring and the scorching summer and I ended up on 186, having missed an awful lot of common birds. I normally reach around 210-225 each year these days, whereas back in the 90's I would typically reach 250-270. The emphasis now is to have a good day out rather than try and get everything that we can.
On Saturday, Colin wanted to go up to Rutland Water with the aim of getting the American Wigeon that is wintering there, as we haven't seen one for a very long time, along with a lot of other birds that can be hard to get. As it happens we still haven't seen American Wigeon, but we did get most of the others.
The Wigeon has been present in the southern part of the reservoir, from the Lyndon reserve and after a fairly late start we got there around 9am. The light was poor, it was a bit windy and it remained that way all day, so not good for photography. A calling Chiffchaff in the car park was a good start and we  headed west to the hides, checking each in turn. In the first we met another local birder also looking for the Wigeon. He pointed out the Goosanders which were rather hard to see being hidden by the walls of the lagoons. I found two Great Northern Divers a long way out in the middle but they showed fairly well at times. There were several large flocks of Mute Swans, red Crested Pochards and Wigeon feeding very actively so it was hard work going through them trying (and failing to locate the American). A bit further on  we found a large scrape and grazing meadow which had a Curlew, a few Dunlin and a flock of Egyptian Geese, including a pit which had taken over one of the Osprey nest sites.
On the way back through the sheep fields,a flock of six Bullfinch was a nice addition and we also found a couple of Treecreepers. A Red Kite was the only bird of prey, though I stopped off from time to time to scan the skies. Being slightly higher we were also able to scan the water but didn't add any more wildfowl.
The next stop was the Egleton reserve, the Birdfair site. A bit of a change to be here without thousands of other visitors.
One Marsh Tit on the feeders was a good start, but no Tree Sparrows (not sure if they are still around as I haven't seen them on recent Birdfair visits). One female Stonechat from the centre was handy. We checked a few hides north of the centre, picking up a nice Peregrine-later also seem on one of the islands the big lagoon to the north. We eventually arrived at the very popular Crake Hide where the confiding Jack Snipe put on a good show a few feet away. It was asleep much of the time but woke up now and again, bouncing and preening. The big problem was getting a clear view through the reeds but I got a few decent shots.

The only other good bird in the area was the Great White Egret-no longer a rare species and now almost expected on any suitable habitat.
Bumped into Tony Hukin on the way back and he gave us pointers on the rarer grebes available on the north arm of the reservoir from the Hambleton road. We spent a bit of time at the Fishermans car park but failed to find the Slavonian and Black Necked Grebes-they were apparently very distant and needed a bit of a hike to reach. However I did find a Shag which is a bit of a bonus this far inland. The two Red Necked Grebes were a bit easier to find with Tony's directions, down from the church where they were sheltering from the now very strong wind in one of the bays.
With the light dropping, we headed home calling in at Eyebrook reservoir, a site we visited several times back in the mid 90's but not since. It hadn't chaned much in the intervening 20+ years. The main target for me was the Smew flock though I only found around five of the 12 present. A huge flock of Lapwing and Golden Plovers were roosting at the north west end along with a few Snipe and Dunlin. The Iceland Gull present recently wasn't seen, though birds were still arriving as we left, though I don't think it has been reported since.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Amwell Today

I didn't have a good day yesterday, and wasn't up for a long day out today. However, having had breakfast I decided to pop down to Amwell for a couple of hours in the hope of adding a few year ticks without overdoing it too much.
The usual big Sunday crowd was there of course. As usual, the Russian Whitefronts had departed at first light, and i missed the two local Ravens as well. The usual assortment of wildfowl were present, with a lot of Greylags flying in at 0930-though without any extra species. One Sparrowhawk spent a lot of time perched in a birch by the hide and every now and again flew out hunting Snipe, though we only saw the one bird it flushed. Phil picked up a distant Parakeet and a few thrushes, and we had a few passerines fly over though most seemed to be Chaffinch. No sign of the Bittern all morning, though I understand it came out in the afternoon.
I went for a walk over to Hollycross hoping to pick up a flock of Redpoll and the marsh Tits was was unsuccessful, in fact there wasn't a great deal in the area. On the way back, two Kingfishers flew over Tumbling Bay and I crossed the bridge into the woods where one of the regulars was watching two Treecreepers. He mentioned that the Redpolls were in the birches by the Bittern Pool so I retraced my steps and counted at least 12, though I have been told that there are 17 around at the moment. I went back over the bridge with William as he still needed the Treecreepers, but unfortunately they were no longer around. All we had were the big flock of Siskins and some tits.
Back at the view point I stuck around for a bit as it was warmer with some brief periods of sunshine. This brought out the Kites and Buzzards. The gull numbers had built up somewhat, though there was nothing unusual among them.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

New Years Day

First bird of the year was predictably the singing Robin outside while I was waiting for Colin to arrive.
It was still dark as we headed up to the Norfolk coast, and for some time I only managed to add a few species. However by the time we passed Ely it was sufficiently light enough to see things. There was the usual selection of corvids, gulls and so on, though the two Moorhens on the verge were a bit different. The highlight of the journey though was the run tail Hen Harrier that flew over us somewhere near Southery.
We arrived at Thornham Harbour shortly before 9am to find several car loads of birders. The usual small flock of Twite soon gave themselves up but hey never settled for long and it wasn't possible to obtain any photos this time. Two Marsh Harriers were in the area, but with the lowish tide, there wasn't much in the tidal creeks and there wasn't a great deal to see on the marsh either so we headed off to Titchwell.
Unfortunately everyone else was there too, and many didn't seem to be able to park sensibly either with huge gaps between many of the cars. One of the staff members also had to go out and sort out some of the problems caused by the lack of brain cells exhibited by some of the visitors.
Around the centre, the feeders had a reasonable selection-no Brambling unfortunately, but a female Sparrowhawk felt through, which was missed by most people. Not sure, but I can't remember seeing one here before.
The usual Water Pipit couldn't be found on Thornham pool or on the fresh marsh, and a part from wildfowl we couldn't find much at all. Most of the waders were either roosting on the tidal pool or feeding on the beach. Unfortunately because it was so busy and disturbed most of the birds were a long way off. The sea was calm but there was a bit of mist, limiting visibility. Good job the three Long tailed Ducks and the Eider were sticking to the surf line. Further out there were a few Great Crested Grebes, Goldeneye, a couple of Mergansers and a Slavonian Grebe. Two small scoter flocks were out near the visible horizon along with a few unidentifiable divers and gulls.
After a spot of lunch we called in at Chosely Barns. The fields here held some Blackbirds and Mistle  Thrushes, plus the usual Chaffinches,  Linnets, and Yellowhammers. Partridge were hard to find but we did get some Red Legs, along with Redwings near Ringstead.
Our final stop off at Burwell Fen also seemed to be very popular, with small groups of photographers scattered all over the place. We didn't stay too long as the light was dropping rapidly, but we did see a few Roe Deer and a distant Short Eared Owl.