Monday, 5 December 2016

Sea Ducks and Shorties

Colin and I had a rare day out birding on Saturday. While the Masked Wagtail in Wales was tempting, the thought of ten hours on the road was not, so we did the usual thing and headed off to Norfolk.
 Over the last few weeks, the sea between Holme and Brancaster has been very good for wildfowl, with (for the southern North Sea) very large numbers of Long Tailed Ducks, among a number of species, and with divers and grebes on offer Titchwell was the destination.
 The car park was pretty quiet for a change, with only the inevitable Robin turning up hoping for a bit of a sandwich, and a few tits Chaffinches and pigeons. W e missed a Merlin on the grazing meadows by a few minutes which was rather annoying. It was seen flying into the nearby bushes but never reappeared. We stopped off briefly to see the Water Pipit on the drain Thornham pool and then went straight to the sea. joining a rather large crowd of locals and visitors.
 Something like 40 Long Tailed Ducks were feeding close in, often just off the breakers, the Common Scoter flocks were also very close with a good 15 Velvets (also a higher than usual number). The small number of Eiders were remarkably the first we had seen here for over a year, and the four Scaup were a nice bonus as well.
 Divers were tending to keep a long way off with maybe a dozen seen over the course of 90 minutes. Red Throated were frequently seen, one Black Throated flew through fairly closely and at least two probable Great Northerns were also seen. An unusual bird was the Shag that flew west-not a regular off this part of the coast.
 Apparently there was a Red Necked Grebe sitting on the sea, though few saw it, and unfortunately the Slavonian Grebe seen yesterday had gone. There were a few Gannets of course, and one or two Kittiwakes were following the two trawlers among the more regular gull species.
 We eventually made our way back to the car picking up a variety of waders and wildfowl, had another look at the Water Pipit and spent a bit of time in the woods trying to find and failing, Siskin and Redpolls. One Brambling was on the feeders though.

 After lunch we went to Burwell Fen, having got directions to a small car park south of Reach Lode. This enabled us to cross over onto the fen using the footbridge and we could walk north to where most of the other birders were congregating. One Short Eared Owl was hunting over the field to our east, often perched up in a Hawthorn, and over the course of an hour or so we saw maybe four more birds. Some were hunting a way off up towards Burwell Lode but two approached quite closely at times and proved to be very entertaining.

 The above sequence is the best of the bunch when one of them suddenly popped up from a drain and unexpectedly flew past at pretty close range.
Unfortunately apart from a pair of Kestrels there were no other raptors or owls showing, and rather unusually we never saw any deer either.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Cold and Sunny

 I haven't done any birding or photography in the last few weeks. Its the typical end of the year slow down, the clocks have changed, the weather has gone downhill, enthusiasm has run out  and the usual assortment of illnesses have been circulating around work and inevitably Ive had the one off cold cough and sore throat best described as Man Flu.
 However, talking to Colin, I fully expected to have a trip out this weekend. Not a great deal happening so it would have been the default visit to Titchwell and or nearby sites where we would at least have a decent day out. Unfortunately it never happened, but I did get out on Saturday.
 As I didn't need to get Mum out shopping yesterday, I planned to get out in the morning. There were a couple of possibilities. Rye Meads has a wintering Water Pipit plus a few other interesting birds, but   I got the impression that there was an event on. Tyttenhanger has two rather mobile Great White Egrets but as their would be a reasonable chance of seeing one in Norfolk, and as its not a place I enjoy visiting I ended up inevitably at Amwell.
 It was actually touch and go really. Freezing fog in Stevenage did not bode well, but by the time I reached Ware, the Sun was out and there were clear blue skies. It was rather cold though and never really improved over the course of the morning.
 I was a bit surprised that no-one else was present, though eventually Alan Meadows and Ade appeared. Since my last visit the trust has done a bit of work around the main lake. The gravel island has been cleared of vegetation, and apparently a pit has been enlarged, the spoil creating a smaller island near the heronry. There was also supposed to have been a lot of work clearing the saplings from the reed beds but there seemed to be little evidence of that.
 Birds were pretty much standard for the time of year-decent numbers of Pochard, Tufties and Gadwall, around 20 Wigeon and at least one pair of Goldeneye. Gull numbers were fluctuating all morning, with most being Black Headed and Common. A few larger gulls-Herring and Lesser Black Backs came and went. An attempt to turn one into Yellow Legged nearly succeeded but the light was poor and it flew off into the sun as we watched it. Inevitably the late evening gull roost reported Caspian, Yellow Legged and Med.
 We walked down to Hollycross to see if the Red Crested Pochard was still around-it wasn't and as Phil had not put the feeders up we didn't bother with the meadow. On the way back a stop off at the Water Vole pool produced a very brief view of the Bittern as it crossed on of the bays cut in the reeds. A tit flock flew through but didn't have anything unusual in it, but earlier I had heard two calling Chiffchaffs along the tow path.
 With the exception of two Sparrowhawks (the female bird again successful in it's Snipe hunt) there were no birds of prey taking advantage of the sunshine. I did see two Red Kites on my way back, one going over the house as I put the car away.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Cliff Swallow at Minsemere

Off to Minsmere this morning. News broke late yesterday afternoon about at Cliff Swallow over the old car park and it was going to be a very popular bird despite a couple of records earlier in the year. News of an Eyebrowed up in Northumberland came on a bit later and it was hoped that this would help to keep numbers down. Unfortunately those that chose to go for the Thrush made the wrong choice.
I got over to Colin's around 7am and we arrived at Minsemere around 90 minutes later, and probably timed it just right as a lot of cars were leaving so there were a few spaces in the car park. Unfortunately the bird had gone as well.
We were heading to the North Bank when Lee Evans said that the Swallows were over the Island Mere so we followed him, along with Dave Holman  up the road to the high spot by the Springwatch building but unfortunately we were too late as the birds were last seen heading to either the Sluice or Sizewell, so we returned to the North Bank. Visibility had been rather poor with some drizzle and it was a bit cold but things did improve during the morning.
After about 15 minutes hanging around the Bank I and several others picked up some hirundines heading our way and the first one I got the bins onto was the Cliff Swallow, looking rather like a greyish House Martin with a red brown rump. It then spent a fair amount of time with the Swallows feeding at some distance over the field north of the old car park Sand Martin cliff and over the Dulwich Coast Guards building but was lost to view.
Colin and I decided to have a wander around the reserve for a while. The scrape was a bit dull-lots of Teal Gadwall Mallard and Shoveller, with a few Godwits and Dunlin. Five Bewicks Swans flew off as we got to the East Hide but were later seen on the levels and appeared to fly back. One or two Little Egrets were noted-someone had reported a Great White earlier I don't think it was seen by anyone else. Up to five Marsh Harriers were around as well-the only raptor seen on the reserve.
Sea watching was a bit pointless with the unfavourable winds with a few distant Gannets, one Common Scoter and a few loafing gulls around some fishing boats. A very nice bonus was the Purple Sandpiper on the Sluice groin.

Returning through the woods a small flock of tits included a calling but never seen Marsh Tit and a couple of Treecreepers added interest. By this time we had heard that the Swallows were back over the filed so we joined the now very large crowd, and since it was now a bit brighter, settled down to enjoy some superb views of the Cliff Swallow feeding, often at close range.
At one point I had it in the scope perched in one of the small Hawthorns, and it could sometimes be followed in the scope while it was in the air. Getting it in the camera was a bit more of a challenge and my best images were obtained when it was more or less overhead, so lots of underside shots. When it was flying low, it seemed to keep it's distance and the few side/upper-side shots I got were rather poor. Still, it was nice to get such good views of a bird I never really expected to be able to see (rather like last years Crag Martin) in the UK.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Autumn Colour

I didn't go birding this weekend. Usual reaction to last weekends flu jab and feeling tired, achy and bunged up at times. Started the day I went back to work after 11 days off so I blame work as well.
However I planned on going out locally today to capture the autumn colours. I was hoping the early morning fog would lift and that I would get glorious sunlit trees and hedges overlooking a mist filled Beane valley. Unfortunately it stayed murky all day with very limited visibility at times so it was a case of looking a bit closer at the leaves and berries.
Bird wise it was very quiet, hardly a sound at times, with two exceptions. Around the ford, I found a large flock of birds feeding in the newly sown field. Amazed to count 23 Pied Wagtails, along with 6 Meadow Pipits, around 30 Starlings, and maybe ten each of Chaffinch and Yellowhammer.
Further up the river, around the model flying club and paddocks, the usual winter thrush flock had arrived. Perhaps 30 Fieldfare and maybe 50 Redwings, but hard to count as they were very mobile. Several Blackbirds and Song Thrushes as well as a couple of Mistle Thrush. Also more Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and 150 Starling in the fields.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Siberian Accentor

 Siberian Accentor, along with the rather similar Black Throated Accentor is one of those birds that have always been a bit of a long shot once in a lifetime bird. There have been a few records from eastern and north eastern Europe over the years and it was always expected to appear one day.
 Since the end of September an easterly airflow extending an incredibly long way into the far north east has brought a large number of Sibes' into western Europe, and among them several records of Siberian Accentor. It was only a matter of time before the first UK record, which duly arrived on the 9th in the expected location of Shetland. A few lucky individuals managed to get plane charters organised at great expense (900 pounds has been quoted) and got to see the bird, along with the very fortunate ones already there having one of the best autumns in many years.
 Numbers continued to be reported across Europe and on Thursday evening the second UK bird was found at Easington in Yorkshire. A bit closer to home for most of us and quite a bit cheaper, so Friday morning saw large numbers queuing to see the bird. Although on holiday, I could not get there until Sunday and was hoping it would stick. Luckily a third was found in Saltburn so there was a back up.
 So Sunday morning Colin and I were on the road heading to Yorkshire. No news from Saltburn, but good news from Easington-it was still there! And by the time we arrived, yet another had been found in Sunderland. We parked in the muddy field, just as the rain started and headed up Vicarage Lane to the gas terminal fence and joined what appeared to be a rather small crowd.
 A late and rather damp Spotted Flycatcher entertained us flying from the fence, and feeding on the ground, as were a lot of Chiffchaffs Willow Warblers and Goldcrests.

 From time to time there were small Thrush movements-mainly Redwing with a few Mistle and Song Thrushes (substantially reduced from the numbers that were being reported on Friday), and every now and again a Robin or Dunnock would pop out and cause a bit of a scare. After about and hour we were getting very wet, and one poor guy had brought his young son with him who was not exactly enjoying things. Luckily just before he was getting ready to leave, raised voices to my left hinted that the Accentor was being observed. Took a while to get directions-it was keeping very low behind a raised kerb and in a gulley but it popped up some way off and I got my first view.

 It disappeared quite quickly and there was some confusion as to where it had gone, and as not everyone had seen it tensions were increasing rapidly. Soon after it was rebound, feeding in the ditch behind the fence and although obscured we were all able to get good views.

  A lot of very wet and very happy birders returned to their cars and contemplated the next move.
Over the weekend, an awful lot off birds had been seen in the Spurn area-maybe seven Dusky Warblers, at least one Raddes, several Pallas's and Yellow Browed Warblers. Olive Backed Pipits. Not to mention Woodcock, Owls, Geese and Quail.
 Heading down to Kilnsea and following directions we stopped briefly to have a quick look at the Tundra Bean Geese in one of the fields, along with many Mallard, Lapwing and Fieldfares.
 We parked outside the Crown and Anchor and joined a few birders in the car park. Unfortunately there weren't any birds, but the hedge across the road was alive with Goldcrests and one stunning Firecrest. We then walked down the path along the canal in the hope that the Raddes Warbler was still around, but the wind and rain was not ideal conditions to find this very skulking bird. Just about all we found were a few Rock Pipits on the boulders and a rather bedraggled Black Redstart.


 We returned to the car park and there were more birders now. It took a bit of time but eventually i found one of the Pallas's on the far side of the boundary hedge but it was very elusive, as was the Yellow Browed that also put in a brief appearance.
 Just as the rain was starting to ease off, we parked at the Bluebell and walked all of fifty yards to the large puddle that held the Shorelark that was putting on a very good show. A bit of a change from the long trudges to try and find the usually very flighty birds on the Norfolk coast.

  Having got completely soaked after several hours in the rain, and since it was now early afternoon, we decided to call it a day rather than hang around hoping to find something else.

 Writing on the 17th, I think the running total of Siberian Accentors in Europe has now exceeded 60, with many countries reporting multiple arrivals on a daily basis. No more for the UK as of yet, its incredible to think that in the space of a week its gone from a mega rare first to an almost expected rarity and rumour has it at least one keen birder has seen all four. Will it do a Bluetail and become a regular autumn visitor or will this be a one off.....

Monday, 10 October 2016

Another Titchwell Visit

 With the east coast heaving with scarce and rare birds all week, thanks to an easterly airflow from the furthest reaches of Siberia it was inevitable that Colin and I would head there on Saturday. Most of the really good stuff was of course up in Shetland, but  there had been loads of goodies at places like Spurn as well and  there was also a lot of really interesting birds in Scandinavia and the Low countries. Conditions haven't been this good for many years so the big decision was where and when.
 It looked like a really safe bet would be north Norfolk, around the Wash .  It would pretty much guarantee something and we would be fairly well placed for Lincolnshire through to the Suffolk coast. So Titchwell it was.
 We drove straight there with no detours and arrived around 9am, finding an already pretty full car park. The northeaster-lies were good, there had been overnight showers and it was overcast. Classic conditions.
Robins were ticking in the car park, Goldcrests were all over the place so things were looking good. We were told that there were at least four Yellow Browed Warblers around and a few minutes later on the path beyond the centre produced a calling bird, but deep in the woodland. We quickly carried on to the fresh marsh in order to see the Pectoral Sandpiper-having missed it last week we were lucky it was still around, but unfortunately was some way out on the big island. One or two Little Stints were still present as well, including a slightly odd plumaged individual which aroused some interest later when the images were posted on social media.
 A bit further on the brackish marsh around half a dozen Curlew Sandpipers were feeding. Everywhere we looked we could see Meadow Pipits and many were also passing over. A slightly different call alerted me to a Tree Pipit, and shortly after someone called out a Rock Pipit going over.
The sea was comparatively quiet this time (famous last words) with a few Gannets and Bonxies generally far out, plus a few small flocks of Brent geese moving through.
 We didn't stay long as the yesterday's Red Breasted Flycatcher had been reported again on the approach road so headed back, bumping into Ron Cousins at the start of the Fen Trail.  There was a female Pied Flycatcher here which took a while to find but posed quite well. Ron was heading for the Pec Sand but decided to try for the Red Breasted Flycatcher with us. Unfortunately it had not been seen for some time though another Pied Fly was present and the rather large crowd was causing a few problems on the road, as the approaching coach driver found out. We stayed a while but eventually returned to the car for a coffee-the car park being just as good a place to locate the Flycatcher.

After a break I dumped a lot of the gear as it was warming up and the scope was getting a bit heavy and we hit the Fen and East trail. Didn't take all that long to pick up and see a Yellow Browed Warbler feeding actively and fighting off some of the more aggressive Goldcrests. One or two Bramblings were also around in the low trees by the feeders.

Failed to locate the long staying Redstart on the tank road, but a spell by the gate looking into the nearby horse filed was very productive. More Bramblings were flying in and out of the hedge, along with Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinches. Lots of Blackbirds were also coming and going with at least one Ring Ousel, and Song Thrushes were flying over all the time.
Unfortunately the trail further on overlooking the Brancaster Marshes didn't seem to produce much apart from a few Bearded Tits and it was clear from the dropping winds and sunshine that things were starting to quieten down so after some thought we decided to call it a day having spent a good five hours here. There didn't seem to be a great deal happening elsewhere-Burnham Overy had a few things which seemed to be a lot of hard work, and the news from Holkham and Wells wasn't good either with the Raddes Warbler not being seen since early morning.
We were about an hour away from the coast when I got a garbled pager message of a Black Browed Albatross going north past Hunstanton. Colin thought about turning round but we had no idea where or when it would be picked up. Apparently it was seen an hour later off Scolt Head for ten minutes and then late afternoon it was back off Hunstanton having not been seen at Holme or Titchwell. Judging by later reports very few people-even those stationed on the Huntsaton cliffs saw it. Even more annoying, a Siberian Stonechat was found on Sunday at Thornham Point, and was there were suggestions that it might have been a Stejneger's (the first one on Portland a few years ago, the second  at Landguard on Friday).

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Phil Goes Birding

A bit of a novelty this weekend, Colin and I went to Norfolk to do a spot of birding. Makes a change from working in the garden.
Its been a bit interesting the past week, with a lot of very good American birds turning up on the western side of the country, and Ireland, but at the same time eastern birds are arriving all along the east coast and the northern isles. We decided to go to Norfolk on Sunday, based on the weather forecast of a low in the north sea producing northerly winds and the possibility birds coming down from Scandinavia and further east. Titchwell had a Pec Sand, which seemed like a good place to start and there were two Richards Pipits at Holme for later on.
We called in as usual at Chosely Barns for a quick look, but unfortunately there weren't many birds at all, and the same seemed to be the case in the car park at Titchwell. It was a bit chilly and there was quite a strong northerly wind blowing. Getting onto the path a quick scan of the fields didn't produce anything at all, but panning round to Thornham Point I noticed Gannets flying over the point. Seemed like the best bet would be to hit the beach and sea watch.
Plenty of others had had the same idea, and a quick chat suggested there were some good birds out there. Unfortunately I was just in time to see a bonxie go overhead and away from the camera. I settled down and started to get my eye in. More Great Skuas were obvious, with birds pretty much present all the time, some were reasonably close in, and over the course of the next hour or so I must have seen a good 15-20 but with birds milling around it was hard to be certain. A few Kittiwakes were seen, as well as a couple of Sandwich and Arctic Terns, though most of the latter were distant. I had just missed some Shearwaters but luckily two Sootys were eventually seen and a rather nice Manx zipped past the wind farm some way out. A few other skuas were also seen, there were certainly a number of Arctics out there, but someone called out a distant adult Long Tailed which most of us managed to get onto-one of three seen that morning. Auks were rather hard to see, being a long way out and moving very rapidly in between the waves, but there were a lot of them. Razorbills were pretty obvious at times and there were certainly a few identifiable Guillemots. Elsewhere on the coast a few Puffins were seen, and it was shame we never saw any Sabines Gulls or Leaches Petrels either. A few divers and grebes were seen, but apart from a two of Red Throated Divers and a Great Crested Grebe most were unidentified.
While all this was happening, reasonable numbers of Sanderling, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Godwits were flying around the surf and beach, Black Headed and Common Gulls were milling around and a few flocks of duck were coming in.
Eventually around 1030 the wind started to ease off and it was clear that activity was subsiding so we made our way back to Parrinder Hide, with a nice female Stonechat eluding my camera. The water levels had dropped since the tide had turned, with the usual selection of waders. Grey Plovers and Curlew were on the brackish marsh, and there were good numbers of Golden Plover, Dunlin, Ruff, Avocets and Godwits on the fresh marsh. At least one Little Stint was present, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers but we never found the Pec Sand though it was reported.
A stroll round the Fen Trail turned out to be rather productive as it was warm and sheltered. Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters were everywhere, and there were still a few Ruddy Darters flying. We met up with someone trying to find the recently reported Willow Emeralds, and after a few minutes studying the sallows I picked up a nice female which perched reasonably close and gave very good views in my scope.

News from elsewhere in Norfolk was rather limited (apart from the early morning sea watch reports) and there didn't seem to be anything at Holme so we went to Burnham Deepdale where a Yellow Browed Warbler had been seen in the church yard. Unfortunately the news was later updated to no sign but a Pied Flycatcher had dropped in. By the time we got there it seemed that both birds had gone, but with a lot of inaccessible woodland between the church and the marsh, and the nearby gardens it wouldn't surprise me that we were just unlucky with the timing.
After spending a bit of time searching we called it a day , but before we left we  popped into the One Stop Nature Shop that Richard Campey had set up and spent a bit of time playing with the bins and digital microscopes-more toys to buy as finances permit.