Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Bluebells

Not a lot happened over the weekend. As Colin was unavailable, I had considered visiting a garden, rather than do any birding, but it was dull, overcast, cool with an unpleasant northerly breeze so I didn't bother.
On Sunday I did my usual circuit around Aston End, but there was little to show for the effort. Blackcaps were singing everywhere, but apart from that warblers were a bit thin on the ground. Still a few Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats singing, but no Lesser Whitethroat, Garden or Willow Warblers. No Yellowhammers either, but I did locate a few Linnets and Chaffinches.
Although I took a few lenses out, I spent the entire walk on plants. The Cow Parsley is looking rather nice along the lanes.

Here is some more along the dried up bed of the Beane. The lack of rain over the winter has had a really serious effect on the water table and the boreholes along the valley are not helping matters. Supposedly they are at a very low level and I suspect it will take several years to recover, always assuming we get decent amounts of rain. Plans to expand Stevenage and surrounding towns still further will ensure that this is unlikely to happen. Sustainable resources don't seem to be part of the planning process.



One of the north facing wooded slopes still has a lot of bluebells though they are starting to go over.



Had my one good bird here-a flyover Yellow Wagtail.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Bank Holiday Weekend

Following the successful quick dash to see the Dotterels I had a day off on Saturday, and planned a trip with Colin on Sunday. We decided to keep it fairly low key and not travel too far by staying fairly local, starting at Part and seeing and taking it from there.
Unfortunately the weather wasn't all that great, being rather cool and breezy early on with the easterly wind increasing through the day.
Paxton didn't deliver a great deal. Plenty of warblers singing though we couldn't find any Lesser Whitethroats in the usual spots, and one of the Chiffchaff songs was a bit odd, with a Willow like finish. Reading up on this it seems like most of these mixed singers are actually Willows-I didn't see the bird well enough to confirm this.
Nightingales were a bit of a struggle, and we only managed to hear three birds on our circuit, and all of them remained hidden deep in the vegetation. No Turtle Doves, no Cuckoos and very few hirundines. checked the terns, but there was nothing unusual, so overall a bit disappointing.
We stopped off for a bit at Graffham where we finally got a Lesser Whitethroat in the Plummer car park. Three Black Terns were off the dam, but tended to stay well out, never coming close. Scanned through the Common Terns and eventually found three Arctics, but they were feeding well out near the opposite shore.
Our main target was to have been the three Black ringed Stilts which had been seen at Eldernell on Saturday. By the time we got there, the wind was getting really strong as we trudged east for about a mile to scan the few remaining pools over on the far side (a consequence of the very dry winter). Didn't see any Stilts, and hopes for a Garganey or two in the ditches or a passage wader on the grazed areas never materialised. Had a pair of Marsh Harriers which was nice, but that really was it. Back in the car, had a sandwich and luckily was looking out when seven Cranes flew in, dropped down about 800 yards away before flying off low east.
Our last destination was Fowlmere, which we reached early afternoon. The main target, Turtle Doves kept their heads down due to the weather, and we didn't really see much at all. In a sheltered spot, a pair of Orange Tips were mating and nearby I saw my first Azure Damselfly of the year. Over the main lake, low flying hirundines included my first House Martins of the year.

Overnight and long overdue rain promised much for Sunday, so I thought I,d get down to Amwell a bit earlier than usual. I had expected, based on early messages to see William, Phil and Beachy, but they had left. I later discovered they had gone off to Pitstone quarry for a Kentish Plover, which occasionally strayed over into Hertfordshire-the first for something like 40 years. I did think of going myself, but I was suffering a bit with the cold wind and decided against the hour plus trip-good job as I would have got there after it had flown off.
Got a few good year ticks, with Tony, Colin Wills and a few others appearing, but the only bird ticks were a distant Cuckoo over in the Ash Valley and a couple of Common Sandpipers. Lots of hirundines low over the water, but I missed three Hobbys that appeared later in the day. Best bird was the lingering Black Tern which I attempted to photograph alongside Jay on a flying visit. It stayed well out and I never got any good images.  I was watching it with Ade when it dropped down onto the exposed mud joining the Common Terns, and we were astounded to see it fly off alongside another one. No idea when the second one arrived but both stuck around all day.













Friday, 28 April 2017

Dotterel at Therfield

Four Dotterel turned up east of Therfield village on Wednesday. I wasn't able get up that day, nor Thursday when most of the guys I know went. Bit of a dilemma as they were sticking around and the weather didn't look like they would move off Thursday night. Unfortunately although I had today off, I had booked the car in for work first thing in the morning, so it was a bit frustrating.
Luckily the birds were still present, and the work went a lot quicker than expected, so after picking the car up and having a quick lunch I was off and got there just before 1pm and spent about half an hour photographing the two pairs which were showing very well at times. I wasn't able to spend a lot of time searching for anything else, but the regular Grey Partridge were around, and there were four Corn Buntings singing along the hedgerows.



Sunday, 23 April 2017

Amwell

A rather cold morning at Amwell. Had a pretty full house today with the regular Sunday crew, Chris Beach, William, Ron, and Bill.
Unfortunately I missed the good stuff. Arrived to see most of them wit bins pointing north west up river-the concensus  was a Woodlark. Definitely a lark according to William and very short tailed, and with one reported north over Wanstead about n hour earlier seems a very safe bet. I also missed the Arctic and Black terns that went through earlier.
The first hour provided most of the action, with regular sightings of Swifts (my first of the year) Swallows. Sand Martins and Common Terns. One Little Ringed Plover was the only wader of note. Still a few Teal around, but otherwise only the usual summering ducks. Thanks to Graham White, the sluice has been cleared and there is now some mud/sand appearing though there isn't really enough to pull in waders (though the regulars have had a reasonable spring passage recently).
Lots of Sedge Warblers in now, and quite a few Blackcaps singing. Two Garden Warblers around-one by the railway line seat being the easiest, and nice to have a singing Treecreeper here too.
Only a few butterflies, one Tortoiseshell and a couple of Orange Tips.
Bill brought a few items from his moth trapping including this nice thing, shame I can't remember it and apparently its not tickle either.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Caspian Gull

Didn't feel like going out this morning-it was dull and drizzly and I didn't feel all that great either so apart from a bit of shopping I stayed in, hoping to do a bit of gardening in the afternoon. 
I was just getting to the end of a bit of lunch, when I got a tweet from Tom Spellar about a Caspian Gull at Fairlands-a ringed bird that has been seen at Amwell and on the Thames earlier in the year. Five minutes later I was there and saw it distantly on a bouy, but it then dropped into the water so I got a few shots while Tom came over to me. We had a bit of a chat keeping an eye on it as it flew around with several Lesser Black Backs and it eventually came down near the cafe to the piles of bread.
We walked over but unfortunately it was flushed by a dog, and appeared to fly off to the west. Mike Illett then arrived so we gave him the bad news. However there was a bird on the boat jetty which looked promising so few went over to check-confirmed that it was the Caspian which immediately flew off and spent the next hour or so either on the water or flying around, taking bread from the ducks occasionally. Several lesser Black Backs and a 1w/1s Herring Gull made a nice contrast.
We think its probably the first for the Stevenage area.




Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Wheatears at Norton.

I was thinking I ought to have taken the camera to work today, and I should have. The Ashwell dung heaps over the last few days had several Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears, and there have also been a few Ring Ousels at Therfield.
As expected, an early morning message from Tom Spellar reported three Wheatear and a singing Garden Warbler at Norton Green on the tip, so I popped over at lunch time.
Despite the bright sunshine there was a nasty north easterly wind and it was rather cold. I didn't hear the Garden Warbler, though I met a birder who though he might have-I did hear a warbler tacking deep in a bush but never saw it. We did mange to locate the three Wheatears-two nice males and a female though they were a long way off. A brief search of the northern area produced my first singing Whitethroat, a couple of Skylarks and Linnets and virtually nothing else apart from Blackbirds trying to give the impression of Ring Ousels.

At home, I have had what is a rare visitor these days-House Sparrows! A pair have been collecting nesting material though I don't know yet where they are going. A bit like the good old days, we also have a pair of Starlings nesting in the roof for the first time in at least ten years.

Portland and Poole

With family coming up for Easter, opportunities for getting out were rather limited over the holiday. Friday was shopping, Sunday and Monday were reserved for the visitors so that just left Saturday, and Colin wasn't impressed with the lack of targets when I spoke on Friday night. I did however have Portland in mind. Over the previous few days, one or more Vagrant Emperor dragonflies had been seen-rather elusive but there was a chance, and Saturday seemed best for the weather, so off we went.
William had reported seeing an Emperor on Friday in a car park below Southwell, so we made that our first port of call. First problem, no wildlife enthusiasts, second it was cold and windy and thirdly there didn't seem to be any suitable locations. I had a search anyway but came up with nothing. I eventually discovered it had been a brief flyby, and I also learnt it was location for Wall Lizards, which would have been worth seeing had it been a bit warmer and sunnier.
So we left and went to the Bill which was filling up with tourists. One or two Wheatears were flying around in the MOD compound, and there were lots of auks Shags and Gannets off the west cliffs, so we picked up a few year ticks. A search around the Bill failed to locate Purple Sandpipers mainly I suspect due to the large number of people clambering over the rocks taking selfies. There was a rather nice sailing ship offshore.



We then went over to the observatory, stopping off at the quarry where there was a rather vocal Grasshopper Warbler singing, but typically not showing (they had a rather impressive 12+ in the area over the next few days). The obligatory quarry Little Owl shot-


We called in at the bookshop but I didn't see anything to tempt me so I went to ask Martin Cade for advice about the Emperor. Turned out he had no details of the recent sightings and had spent many unsuccessful hours searching over the previous week. The observatory log was rather poor, with few birds other than Wheatears being reported (should have been there today, with loads of things coming in), but decided to walk up to the Top Fields anyway. It was cold, windy and rather birdless though Swallows were flying through on all the time .
Having heard that there were a few waders at Ferrybridge we called in briefly, but there was a distinct lack of Whimbrels and plovers, in fact there were only two Oystercatchers visible. I did see my first Common Terns of the year though, but apparently missed a couple of Sandwich Terns.
A stop off at Radipole was very brief. Very little there or at Lodmoor so we decided to call it a day, with a diversion to Lytchett Fields for the over wintering Lesser Yellowlegs.
This was a new site for us and a bit of a challenge as there were no real visitor facilities and directions assumed you knew the place. Had to park in a side street, walk down a long lane and through the gate where a marshy area could be seen. One Pied Wagtail, a few gulls and a Little Egret were the only birds from the viewpoint, but at least there was a display board telling us we were at the wrong viewpoint. So retraced our steps, down another lane and over a stile into the grazing marsh where we could see a couple of distant birders.
The pools held a lot of birds, mainly Black Headed Gulls, Shelduck Mallard and Teal, with a few waders. Mainly Black Tailed Godwits, there were also a couple of Ruff, and several parties of Redshank. The Lesser Yellowlegs was a bit elusive, tending to associate with the Redshanks but often disappearing behind large clumps of juncus. It was a long way off and too far for the camera, but it was nice to see one in breeding plumage again-I think my last one was in 1993, and this was also the first Lesser Yellowlegs since the 2002 Amwell bird, and the one in 2003 on the Hayle.
On the way back to the car two male Orange Tips on Periwinkle were worth stopping for but the wind was a problem, so most photos went straight into the bin.