Tuesday, 19 September 2017


We haven't gone up to the Norfolk coast for quite a while, and as a few things had been seen, Colin and I decided to travel up on Sunday. There had been a lot of overnight rain, and it was quite misty and murky, but by the time we got near the coast it had cleared and we actually had a nice day weather-wise.
Titchwell was busy by the time we arrived with a lot of cars in the car parks. A stroll up to the fresh marsh produced a Robins and Chiffchaffs in the bushes but not much else apart from a family of Bearded Tits. We were told that the Red Necked Phalarope had apparently disappeared behind one of the islands-it later transpired that it had flown off. So one of our targets had gone. Lots of Ruff, some Godwits, Golden Plover, Avocets and Dunlin were on the marsh, and I picked out a couple of juvenile Mediterranean Gulls.
The sea was a bit quiet, despite the light north easterlies. Gannets and Common Scoter were flying around, and there were a couple of lingering Sandwich Terns. We missed some Skuas and divers which were seen much earlier.
A spell in Parrinder Hide failed to produce a lone Purple Sandpiper hiding in the vegetation on the salt marsh. We also missed Little Stints here. Several Pied Wagtails were checked in the vain hope that one would be a Citrine.
On the Fen Trail, I spent some time looking for Willow Emeralds, which were not showing but got a nice image of a Common Darter. No-one managed to locate the Yellow Browed Warbler that had been around for a day or two.

News of an Arctic Warbler at Wells Wood would have been tempting, were it not for the high cost of parking, added to which it can be hard work finding anything, so we went to Cley instead.
Here we were able to finally get a year tick with a Red Necked Phalarope, but unfortunately it remained on the far side of Simmond's Scrape and the distant photos weren't all that great. Had a couple of Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints, a few Snipe and a Yellow Wagtail, but we didn't stay long.
We finished up at Cavenham Heath just in time for a brief thunderstorm.

Once the rain had cleared we scanned the field near the river, picking up 13 Stone Curlews, though numbers were far higher as 30+ had been seen earlier.

Returning to the car I got a nice surprise for the plane spotters, with an OV10 Bronco flying over.
I last saw one of these at Mildenhall some time around 1979.

Friday, 15 September 2017

White Winged Black Tern at Tyttenhanger

A White Winged Black Tern was found at Tyttenhanger on Tuesday. Its a rather rare bird for Herts, with only seven previous records, usually at Wilstone/Tring and two together at Hillfield. Usually they don't linger, so most birders went down that evening, or early the next morning as it roosted overnight.
I didn't. Stevenage to Tyttenhanger involves going up and down the two lane  section of the A1M which features on the traffic news most rush hours, and a short very busy stretch of the A414 at London Colney. Basically I was stuffed, I had a couple of appointments as well, immediately after work so there was no realistic chance of seeing it.
It lingered into Thursday, my last day at work for a week so there was hope. At breakfast on Friday, Tom Spellar put out a message that it was still there, and once the worst of the school run was over I departed (via Knebworth as the A1 was as usual very slow) and got to London Colney just after 9am.
It was a nice, cool sunny morning with a bit of a breeze, and Robins ticking in the hedges as I walked rapidly down to the main pit where I found Rupert Evershed scoping from the gate. He mentioned the two Ruff-a nice bonus Herts year list and pointed me towards Willow Farm lake where I soon joined a couple of guys up from London.
We walked along the Fishing Lake bank, without seeing a great deal apart from large numbers of House Martins, along with Sand Martins and Swallows. Seeing a couple of birders on the causeway I saw the familiar face of Lee Evans, and it was clear the Tern wasn't showing. Rather despondently we
arrived at the causeway, and at the same time the Tern appeared, flying around only a few feet away from us. Over the course of the next hour we were treated to stunning views as it did innumerable circuits of the small lake, dropping down to the water in front of us from time to time.
For the first time this year I regretted taking the GX8 and 100-400mm lens as the bird was too close, too fast and too agile. I had to back the zoom off to 200mm and even then I had problems. The 300mm Nikkor and the D3s would have been a better choice, but I managed to obtain a lot of excellent images.

Lee mentioned a male Redstart in the big field hedge and he also wanted to see the Ruff so we both went back to the main pit. No sign of the Ruff so walked up the hedge without seeing anything apart from a few Reed Buntings. One of the locals was at the top and pointed out where the Redstart had been, and Lee went off to the viewpoint as the Ruff were visible from there-as was the Tern, now roosting on the mud.
Eventually we got good views of the Redstart low down from a range of about 100yds, occasionally perched in the hedge, but sometimes dropping onto the ground to feed. I eventually managed to get a bit closer and got a few images, before being joined by Alan Meadows and a few other Tern twitchers.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Amwell-its been a while

I paid a visit to Amwell yesterday-the first for some time. It hasn't been very exciting for the regulars over the last few months, compared to other sites in the county, and I've found that Rye Meads has been a better bet for a nice selection of birds recently.
There has been a lot of criticism this year, in particular, over the way the reserve has been managed, which eventually made its way onto social media, and it's impact on the birds and wildlife. On my last visit, very dense thickets of Purple Loosestrife had taken over the islands, and much of the waters edge, and the willows and alders in the reed-bed were getting rather large ( a great way of demonstrating how wetlands evolve into woodland, but not good when reeds are supposed to be one of the more important habitats). Hollycross has been quite poor as well, with many of the pools overgrown, and the meadow turning into rank grassland. I have been told that impacted the breeding of wildfowl and terns (no waders bred as far as I know) which has been poor this year. Judging by the changes since my last visit some of the concerns have been taken on board and steps are being taken to improve matters-the islands have been cleared, as has the area in front of the viewpoint, and some  of the larger shrubs have been removed on Hollycross, opening up some areas.
The usual Sunday regulars were present when I arrived, some of whom I haven't seen in months so it was nice to catch up and chat. They eventually went off to do their usual circuit so I spent the morning chatting with Bill. We didn't have many birds on the lake, duck numbers were very low, though there seemed to be a few Teal in. It was mainly Canada Geese, a few Greylags, Coot and Cormorants. A few Buzzards, Kites and Sparrowhawks were up in the air. Hirundines seemed to be coming through now and again with good numbers of House Martins, some Swallows and one or two Sand Martins. Judging by the fact that sometimes birds were heading up-river suggested that some of the flocks were doing circuits.
Bill and I eventually wandered down to Hollycross, stopping off at the Bittern pool for a quick scan (an injured Bittern has apparently over summered). Picked up a few butterflies-Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Comma and Small White, on the way. More duck were on Hollycross-mainly Pochard with a few Grebes. Bill showed me the the work that has been carried out-we can now see the channel that runs under the small bridge which was completely over grown, and hopefully this will be expanded and some of the other areas will be cleared. Didn't see any dragonflies apart from a few Common Darters and a fast moving metallic green damsel of some kind-could have been a Willow Emerald.
By the time we got back to the view-point Mike Ilett had turned up(fresh back from a trip to Barra for the American Redstart) and soon after Phil arrived with the dogs. Lots more geese were flying in and we also had the regular Hobby hunting over the wood-a bird that has been rather hard to find locally this year. We also had a rather odd hybrid goose which looked a bit Emperor or Blue Snow Goose, but the consensus is that it is some sort of Barnacle cross, maybe with Ross's. Looked a lot better than most hybrids.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Queen of Spain

I remember a Queen of Spain Fritillary at Minsmere in I think 1995, and was very jealous of the photos taken by the then rare bird photographers, as I never got to see it. I thought I might have a chance of seeing one a couple of years ago when they were reported over a couple of years near Chichester. The sightings were publicised late in the year, but unfortunately they were not seen the following year.
Four were seen at a farm near Peacehaven last weekend, and by the time Colin and I could get down yesterday, one male remained. We followed the instructions on the Sussex Butterfly Conservation page and parked at the farm, and only had to walk a few yards to where the small crowd was surrounding the butterfly.
It proved to be rather flighty, ranging over a fair bit of ground but given time we were all able to obtain very satisfactory views and images.

The meadow proved to be very good for butterflies with at least four Clouded Yellows (my first for a couple of years) large numbers of all three whites, Brown Argus and Adonis Blues were abundant, and there were a few Small Coppers,Common Blues and Chalkhill Blues. No vannesids though, which was rather unusual.
I met a guy there who gave us instructions on how to get to Castle Hill, and we met up with him when we got there. Classic steep chalk downland hills and valleys, and lots of Adonis Blues, Small Heaths and Chalkhill Blues. Thanks to his guidance, and another person we met when we got onto the right hillside, I managed to see three Wartbiters.

Interesting flowers included Round Headed Rampion, various Hawkweeds and Autumn Ladies Tresses. A few Autumn Gentians were still flowering, as were Common Milkwort, Centaury and Eyebright.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Canvey Island

Five years ago, Colin and I spent a very hot August day on Canvey Island looking for dragonflies, and ended up in a soon to be RSPB Bowers Marsh. This Bank Holiday Sunday, we decided to do it all over again.
Not much has changed at Bowers Marsh, so it seemed when we got there-minimal facilities, a basic car park, and the whole area criss crossed with public footpaths and tracks. Even at half past nine it was hot, and with very little shade it proved rather exhausting doing the 5km circuit.
While we went primarily for dragonflies, butterflies and other insects, we ended up seeing very little and it was the birds that turned out to provide the highlights. Small Heaths were abundant, as were various White butterflies and we also saw a couple of Common Blues, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks. Common and Ruddy Darters were out in small numbers and we also saw several Migrant Hawkers. We were hoping for Southern Migrants, this area being their stronghold but despite checking every hawker, none were seen. The area is good for Emerald and Scarce Emerald damselflies, but again none were found-just a few Bluetails and Common Blues.
A few waders were present on the lagoons-Black Tailed Godwits, including one that insisted on sitting on the path, one Green Sandpiper and a Curlew. Larger gulls flying down from the nearby landfill included a couple of Yellow Legged. One Kingfisher was a bit of a surprise.
The landfill fence was the best bit, with a flock of Linnets, one Yellow Wagtail, one or two Stonechats and a couple of Whinchats. Other probable migrants included a few Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Whitethroats.

After lunch we called in at RSPB West Canvey for a an hour or so, but this proved to be rather disappointing. This was the place for Southern Migrant Hawkers last time, but the ditches were overgrown, the more open areas of water didn't exist any more and we didn't see anything of interest. Butterflies and dragonflies were a repeat of Bowers Marsh, but in very small numbers and we didn't see many bird either apart from gulls and geese.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Willow Emerald Rye Meads

No sign of the Bee-eaters since they were last seen Thursday afternoon unfortunately. They were not the first for Herts, as there were four previous records-all a long time ago and I wouldn't have thought any were twitchable.

This morning I spent a few hours at Rye Meads. Initially bright and warm, it gradually clouded over and the wind picked up, which was a bit unfortunate as I was hoping to get images of some of the dragonflies.
The Draper Hide was entertaining. The Gadwall Tufted Ducks and Mallards are going out of eclipse and there were several Teal and Shoveller present. Two Lesser Blacked Gulls were busy dive bombing the ducks, without success, so turned their eyes on the Little Grebes and their chicks which consequently spent a great deal of time underwater.
One Little Egret, one Common Sandpiper and maybe four Green Sandpipers were also present, and Stock Doves seemed to be coming and going on a regular basis.
I encountered one Southern Hawker and a Brown Hawker outside, and a bit further on I noticed a movement in one of the Hawthorns, which turned out to be a Willow Emerald, my first for the reserve.
Two Commas some Whites and a couple of Speckled Woods were the only butterflies on the wing.
The four Garganey were seen on the north lagoon from the Gadwall Hide, but remained distant. Several small flocks of hirundines were feeding over the far side, mainly House Martins, but a few Sand Martins and Swallows were with them, and also two rather late Swifts.
I bumped into Colin Wills and Maureen, and had chat when I got back to Draper. The Sandpipers were a bit more obliging, and the hirundines and Swifts remained on view for us.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

First Bee-Eaters in Herts

A few days after we went up to see the Bee-eaters, we heard that the nesting attempt had failed and they departed the site, flying off south. However they were then seen in Leicestershire, and have been reported for the last ten days or so. It was a bit of a surprise when I got a tweet from Mike Illett that the (presumed same seven) flock had been seen in a garden in Bayford yesterday, and were still showing.
That was just after lunch when I went through the messages, so I hung on until three, when I could finish work and was down there just after 3.30. Unfortunately they had last been seen about an hour earlier flying north towards the station and Brickendon (which is actually east but never mind). I drove down to Brickendon checking where I was able to pull in and then returned to the small group outside the garden they were last seen in.
We spent a lot of time chatting and eventually most drifted off to search. I hung around for a bit and then walked up towards to top of the village for a bit, meeting up with Simon, Ian Bennell and one or two others. Apart from a lot of hirundines over the fields, plus the usual pigeons, crows etc there wasn't much around. After a couple of search parties returned around 5pm, with negative news, I decided to leave.
Maybe they will stick around the area for a few days, just hope they get refund as there are an awful lot of disappointed Herts birders at the moment (plus a few very lucky individuals able to get down in  time).