Sunday, 18 March 2018

Back Again

I had a lovely time pottering in the garden on Friday. Lots of bulbs coming through, a few plants in flower and a couple of bumblebees enjoying the warm sunshine. Unfortunately it didn't last and the arctic blast arrived early on Saturday morning, with almost constant light snow and a really vicious wind. Needless to say I didn't spend much time in the garden.
I never had a great deal of success with feeding birds with suet balls, even when I got the more expensive ones. However, suet blocks have been pretty good with a succession of birds visiting the two I have at the bottom of the garden in the elder bush-including Magpies and Carrion Crows. However its been mainly Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long Tailed Tits-the latter have been coming daily.


Today I noticed three large blobs in the Rowan Tree-the Fieldfares have come back to feed on my neighbours apples. Had a feeling that the freeze would bring some extra birds in but I assumed it would have been the local Song Thrushes. In fact apart from the Fieldfares it hasn't been much different with the regular Wood Pigeons, Blackbirds, Robins, a Dunnock or two and the Blue, Great and Long Tailed tits.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


Following the recent cold snap, I was able to get out on Sunday for a couple of hours in what almost passed for a mild Spring morning. Unfortunately although mild, there was little in the way of sunshine, but the southerly winds promised the possibility of an early migrant.
I went to Amwell, hoping that one of the Smew might still be around-it wasn't. However the Pintail that arrived earlier in the week were still present-three nice drake birds. A pair of Goldeneye remained and the big flock of Wigeon eventually dropped in. A few Teal were on the main lake but I had got the impression that wildfowl numbers are starting to decline. However, nine Egyptian Geese appeared, and shortly after, a Shelduck arrived-I'm presuming from Rye Meads.
Bill had run his moth traps and brought down a few specimens-I got this image of an Oak Beauty on the fence rail.

He went off with the rest of the Sunday regulars leaving me and Ron to keep an eye from the viewpoint. One interesting 1w winter gull provoked some interest as it seemed to tick most of the Caspian boxes, and when I got home to look at the images I'm pretty sure it was one. Another 3w gull was more tricky though. Initially I thought it was just a Herring Gull, but was a lot darker mantled, being almost the same as a nearby adult Common Gull, but a bit too pale for Lesser Black Backed. Structurally it didn't quite match my expectations of Yellow Legged Gull, but the bill and reddish eye ring seemed to point in this direction-thats what I have put it down as for now.

Ron had to leave so I intended to walk up to Tumbling Bay and check for Smew but met everyone half way there with negative news so I joined them and headed off to the Hollycross feeders. Not much to see there though, apart from a Coal Tit and a few Long Tailed Tits and Goldfinches. The first Prunus blossoms were out on the trees by the bridge, contrasting nicely with the catkins.
We returned to the viewpoint and I spent a bit of time here before leaving. Scanning the skies produced two Red Kites, two or more Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk. Hirundines were conspicuously absent, which was pity as several sites had been reporting their first Sand Martins and it seemed like the weather was just right for one or two early birds to appear.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Last Fieldfare

Sunday morning and the snow has almost gone. For a brief moment the Sun woke through the clouds.
Outside, Wrens are singing, I can hear Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, a flock of Long Tailed Tits somewhere nearby and a distant Green Woodpecker. The pond is still largely frozen but is starting to thaw with enough for a Blackbird to come down to drink. The Song Thrush put in a brief appearance early on, and a Great Tit called in at the feeders briefly-four days into March and I have had 13 species in the garden, which is rather high these days.
I suspect I may see the Song Thrushes occasionally in the garden again, but it will probably be a long time before one of these visits.

Friday, 2 March 2018

The Beast from the East and Winter Visitors

I woke up in the early hours of Wednesday feeling very hot and sick, with a very dry throat and a bit of a cough. Bit of a problem as I had my annual outpatients appointment at the Hospital later that day.
Although very cold, at least the sun was shining, and the occasional snow shower wasn't really settling as it was very dry and powdery. Going outside to fill the feeders was rather unpleasant as I discovered that the wind was causing a severe wind chill and it was necessary to put out some dishes of water on the patio as the pond had completely frozen over. At least the sun was heating the ground and the thin dusting of snow was melting rapidly.
I made it to the Hospital, the car's thermometer at 3pm was reading -3C, and the walk from he car was horrendous as I was heading east straight into the wind. At least the ground was largely dry and ice free. When I got back home I sat down and was surprised to see a Song Thrush the other side of the patio window. Although they are still around locally-I hear several at this time of year singing, they have always been rare visitors to the garden. The resident Blackbirds took exception to this stranger and drove it off, but it soon returned. I had a brainwave and chopped up one of the suet blocks containing fruit and scattered it under the window-which had the desired effect as two Song Thrushes appeared late in the afternoon.
Thursday was a really nasty day. It twas overcast, we had had a bit more snow and I don't think the temperature got above -5C. I put out a second feeder with sunflower hearts as I was now getting up to 25 Goldfinches visiting-double the normal amount. I was also scattering seed and more suet on the patio and under the palm tree where it was really sheltered. Looking out from one of the bedrooms a bit later I saw a Fieldfare fly into a garden opposite but lost it soon after. I went to get the camera out, and four Fieldfare flew into my Rowan briefly and then dropped into a neighbours garden where he still had some windfall apples under his tree. We sometimes have Fieldfares fly over in winter, but I have never ever seen one in a local garden-they don't even visit the remnant Hawthorn and Holly hedgerows we have outside (though Redwings have done).
Over the course of the day, we had the usual visitors-2-3 Blackbird, 1-2 Robin,1+Dunnock, several Blue Tits, and the ever present Wood Pigeons and Goldfinches. One Song Thrush continued to appear from time to time, but getting decent photos was frustrating at it was very jumpy. In the early afternoon, having topped up the piles of suet I was happy to see a Fieldfare under the palm. It made it's way up the path and almost but not quite made it onto the patio. I grabbed the camera and got some frame fillers from less than fifteen feet away.

 Today has been a slightly better day from a weather perspective, with temperatures of -2C. The wind is still bad and we are expecting more snow tonight. I have seen one of the Fieldfares again, early on. The Song Thrushes are still visiting-the above images were taken today. One of the local Magpies has discovered the fat feeder in the elder by the gate. The other birds are still visiting as usual.
I managed to get Mum out to the local supermarket-very few birds seen on the way apart from one Red Kite, and nothing at all in the wooded area by the car park.
I am surprised at the lack of other birds visiting the garden. I would have expected Long Tailed Tits, maybe a Coal Tit. Even Starlings haven't called in. No finches or House Sparrows either even thought hey are still Hanging on locally. I'm assuming they are visiting some of the other gardens  that have feeding stations.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Stilt Sandpiper

Colin and I went down to Dorset and Hampshire yesterday. Everyone went to Weymouth for the Ross's Gull, but we went elsewhere.
Many years ago we saw a Stilt Sandpiper at Minmere, back in 1997-an adult in breeding plumage. This required a long queue for the crowded hide, and rather brief views. While there have been a few since then, we never went for any of them, so one turning up last autumn was very tempting. However connecting with it was rather hit and miss at times, as it ranged over a large area. Rather unusually though, it stuck around the Poole Harbour area for a long time and then relocated to Christchurch Harbour and Stanpit Marsh where it seems to have settled for the winter.
Finding it proved to be a bit tricky when we got there-we were told it had flown down into the harbour, and  parking and access point was difficult, but we eventually got there. Joined by another birder, scanning the harbour from Fishermans Bank, we picked up lots of waders of course-Dunlin, Redshank, Ruff, Curlew, Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers. A few Egrets were feeding-the Spoonbill unfortunately had disappeared, and there were lots of gulls milling around. I eventually found the Stilt Sandpiper at the northern end of the bank among some Black Tailed Godwits so we made our way up there and spent around an hour hoping it would get a bit closer as the tide dropped. It didn't and I had to use the digiscoping adaptor to get the images. The good light helped to keep the shutter speed up, but with the bird actively feeding and always on the move, getting sharp images was difficult, and the distance added to the problems.

The Ross's Gull was rather elusive all morning, and there was no news of the Thayer's Gull either so we ended up at Acres Down in the New Forest for an hour or so. The sunshine was lovely, the cold breeze less so and this presumably kept the small birds down. Apart from a few Chaffinch and Robins, there were a few Goldcrests in the evergreens, and a flyover Crossbill. A distant large chunky finch could have been a Hawfinch or a Crossbill but I never saw where it landed. The sunshine did bring out a couple of Buzzards and one Goshawk but it was hard work so we called it a day.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Horned Lark

Ive been wanting to go to Staines reservoir for a while now, because of the wintering Horned Lark-the American version of the Shorelark. It had put in a couple of short appearances late last year, and then turned up again a few weeks ago, and since then has been seen reliably on the causeway. Would have gone last week, but I didn't feel up to going out courtesy of the recurrent cold that has been going around since November.
We finally paid a visit this morning, arriving just after nine. Staines is as bleak and cold as its always been-had some very good birds here over the years but never really enjoyed the place, and as usual most of the birds were on the south basin looking into the Sun.
The lark was rather hard to find, feeding on the causeway edge, often obscured by the grass. In fact we walked past it heading for the small crowd not realising that they were heading towards us as they had seen the bird fly a long way east. We all doubled back, walked past the bird again until someone finally located it-close to where we initially met the crowd. Ron Cousins was among them.
The Horned Lark put on a pretty good show. Unfortunately, even the 800mm equivalent focal length of the 100-400 lens wasn't enough to get good images and I had to use the digiscoping adapter on the scope to get the best images. I found it rather tricky to follow the bird-it was feeding actively all the time and a lot of images weren't quite in focus, and the cold breeze was also causing a bit of camera shake. However a few were acceptable.

A Scaup had been seen earlier in the week, but not today, and we couldn't locate the summer plumaged Black Necked Grebe though Ron saw it  earlier.

With not a lot else to go for, we finally ended up at Cheshunt for what turned out to be just a long walk. We parked at Cheshunt with the intention of walking up to Slipe Lane, hopefully  picking up Goosander and so on, then maybe returning via Seventy Acres. Saw lots of the expected wildfowl with large numbers of Shoveller in particular but no sawbills of any kind. Very few small birds either-one Long Tailed Tit flock and a few Goldcrests were all we managed. No thrushes, finches or Buntings at all, so rather disappointing. Then the sleety hail arrived, so it was a good job we didnt do Seventy Acres.

Sunday, 21 January 2018


I went up to Norfolk yesterday with Colin. The weather was rather indifferent, being damp and drizzly with rain in the afternoon, but it was a lot better than elsewhere. Travelling up, we noticed a lot of trees and branches had come down due to the recent high winds-I gather it was quite severe in North Norfolk.
We went to Thornham again-the Twite are still around in the harbour, with around 20 now. it was a bit problematic getting there as the road was closed between Hunstanton and Holme, needing a diversion from Heacham inland. This enabled us to pick up a few large flocks of Pink Footed Geese, a lot of Red Legged Partridge and a party of Bullfinch crossing the road in front of us. It also meant we arrived rather later than expected.
The Twite were easy to find, flying up from the puddles in the car parking area as we approached. They seemed to be a bit more approachable than last time, but only spent a few seconds around the puddles before flying off again. The usual selection of waders were in the harbour-Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing and Sanderling. One Spotted Redshank was in the creek behind us. Lots of distant birds over the sea, including Red Breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes and a Great Northern Diver, but many remained unidentified due to the distance.

 We then went to Titchwell, which turned out to be rather less busy than usual. Colin had a quick test of one or two telescopes and while he was watching the feeders I noticed a Treecreeper-in 30 years I think it was my first for Titchwell. Apparently they are seen occasionally but are barely annual.
High water levels on the fresh marsh produced a lot of duck, some geese and not much else-one small island had a few Knot and Dunlin. Most of the waders were on the mud on the brackish marsh. Last year we missed a Greenshank here and I hoped it would be around today, but no such luck. Just the usual godwits, Curlew Grey Plovers and Redshanks. More were on the flooded lagoon behind the dune, and here we found all the Avocets and Oystercatchers, plus several Pintail.
The sea was rather calm, but visibility at a distance was poor, with the wind farm hard to make out with the naked eye. A sizeable  flock of Red Breasted Mergansers in Brancaster Bay had some Common Scoter with them. Apparently there was a single Velvet Scoter and Long Tailed Duck with them but I couldn't find them. Lots of Great Crested Grebes and Red Throated Divers as usual, with one or two Great Northern Divers on the sea, and I also  found a flyby Black Throated Diver. There were a few Guillemots and Razorbills as well.
On the way back we stopped off at Thornham Pool, found a showy Water Rail and had the water Pipit location pointed out-unfortunately largely hidden in the channel by the reed bed. A couple of calling Cetti's were the only warblers encountered all day.
The plan for the afternoon was to go to Leatheringsett for the Arctic and Mealy Redpolls, but as we were setting off, birds were reported again at Kelling, which seemed a better bet as we knew the area.
It was raining as we arrived and steadily got worse. The Redpoll flock were very flighty but dropped down into a bare tree every now and again. Seemed to be a mixture of Lesser and Common (Mealy). Three Coue's Arctic were supposed to be present but never showed while we were there. Bonus birds included a flyby ring tail Hen Harrier and at least three Woodcock.

Because we were getting so wet we popped into Cley Spy and had a look at some more scopes, tripod heads and binoculars, though it really entailed having a long chat with one of the staff members. Their feeders had a few House Sparrows but not much else due to the disturbance of a new hide being constructed.