Sunday, 29 October 2017

Six Mile Walk

Went for a rather long walk this morning. The clocks changed, and I got up at my usual time to had an extra hour before dinner so I tacked on a diversion before my usual circuit around Aston End.
Earlier in the week a drake Manadarin turned up in Fairlands Valley, and I had considered going for it before work, but decided to do it today. No idea if its wild or an recent escape but its unsigned so what the hell.
Walking over to the lakes was a bit miserable at first, with some drizzle and a rather cool northerly breeze, though it did improve as the morning progressed. I didn't really see a great deal on my way apart from a few pigeons and crows, plus a few Blackbirds and Robins. The Millennium Lake as its called now, had it's usual assortment of Mallards, Coot, Moorhens Cormorants and Canada Geese and the Mandarin was soon found tucked into one of the more secluded viewpoints. It was rather approachable so maybe not a good sign, but it was nice to see nevertheless. The main boating lake didn't seem to have anything apart from Black headed and Lesser Black Backed Gulls.

Getting over to Aston End involved a bit of a walk along some paths and roads  I probably haven't been down in over twenty years, maybe more. Ashtree Wood, a place I use to visit weekly, was full of mature trees, little understory and no birds. Apart from an interesting flock of tits and Goldcrests along Tatlers Lane I didn't see anything noteworthy until I reached the Aston End water tower. The fields were being resown the last time I was here and there was a big flock of Starlings and a mixed Chaffinch and Yellowhammer flock-around 20 of the latter, feeding, along with a few Skylarks. A bit further down I found 15 Redwings in some Hawthorn trees, but things then went downhill and I had a hard time finding any birds at all. The strengthening wind may have played a part.
There was nothing whatsoever along the (very dry) river, and the horse paddocks were empty as well. The ploughed/seeded fields on the way up to Chells Manor had a few more Skylarks, some corvids and a Long Tailed Tit flock which held a few warblers which I never got to see or hear properly. Hope I didn't miss a Yellow Browed.

Friday, 20 October 2017


Having had a bit of a rest on Thursday, I went down to Amwell for a couple of hours this morning. Work on the gas pipes has yet to start, so the entire reserve was still accessible. Pity about all the 'improvements' on the A602 as it was a bit of a slow drive in both directions.
Weather was very autumnal, fairly mild, rather overcast and with a bit of a south westerly breeze. Nice to see that a lot of the area in front of the view point has been cleared, and some of the channels and pools down there have been re-done. Water levels are still on the low side, with lots of exposed mud, but it does look a lot better now.
Missed a couple of good birds. The recent Rock Pipit appears to have gone, and an adult Mediterranean Gull had departed by the time I arrived.  There were a few Common and Lesser Black Backed Gulls, the usual collection of wildfowl and reasonable numbers of Lapwings. Small  birds were moving around all the time, with regular flyover Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and a few Siskin. Redpolls are around-Barry had 25 and while I did see some distant flocks of finches, they were unidentifiable. Two Swallows flew down river-potentially my last of the year.
I went for a walk over to Hollycross which is now apparently open all year round and met up with Barry on the bridge. We had a big tit flock here with at least one Marsh Tit calling and several Goldcrests with them. I managed to get a few Goldcrest shots but the light was rather poor so they are not all that great.
I didn't see a great deal on Hollycross so returned via the woods and picnic area  finding a few Siskin here and then back to the view point. Two Red Kites, two Sparrowhawks a Buzzard and  Kestrel were in the air. I spent some time checking distant corvids hoping that one of the Ravens might come up and join them, and then decided to go round the woods again just in case the Redpolls were present, but didn't find anything new.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Two Barred Greenish Warbler

Back in 1996, Colin and I had an amazing mid October, with many very rare birds seen over a week and one day stands out for various reasons. We watched the sun rise over the chemical works on Teeside before picking out a Great Knot in the half light. There was then a long drive down to Holme in  Norfolk for Colin's first Isabelline Shrike (and my second in three days), and I seem to remember Wryneck and Red Breasted Flycatcher there as well. Then we went to Wells Wood for a Two Barred Greenish Warbler which gave everyone the run around. We heard it call, but few actually got to see it-Colin sat down for a bit, saw it but I didn't. I remember getting back to the car park completely shattered, had a coffee  before Steve Gantlett appeared to say it showed well after we left. I couldn't face going back and staring at the pines again, so left for home via a Blythes Pipit at Weybourne. We don't seem to have autumn days like that anymore.
Yesterday I got a call from Colin asking that since he had caught me up with the Rock Thrush wether I would like to get one back on him. Turned out that a possible Arctic Warbler in Dorset on Sunday had been re-identifuied as a Two Barred Greenish Warbler. I said yes.
We decided to leave at six, hoping that we would miss the A1M, M25 rush hour traffic. We didn't, and it was a very slow run down to the M3, but surprisingly the Winchester-Southampton stretch was trouble free. Had the expected delays on the A31 though and we arrived at St Adhelms head around 0930.
The bird has been frequenting the small wood and  bushes on the quarry edge, but with limited viewing space it was rather difficult. Added to the problem is that we could only see the tops of the trees and one or two elders and field maples-much of the wooded area was completely out of view.
After about 40 minutes we became aware that some of the birders to our right and higher up had seen it, and I noticed a warbler drop down low in one of the maples, got a superb view of the Two Barred as it popped out, perched on a branch briefly , though only a few near me could actually see, it before it flitted up and over the Sycamores.
The next 40 minutes were very frustrating as it was glimpsed occasionally. A few managed to see it from the quarry gate, though the viewing angle was very restricted. Some of us tried to view up the slope and into the back of the trees but there were only sporadic views. I eventually made my way back to the top and was just getting the camera set up again when there was a big rush to the southern end which was more open, and we discovered that it had been showing very well in the big Sycamores there. I had some lovely views of it actively feeding, it then dropped down into an Ash, in front of Colin before we lost it again.
So it was back to the main viewing area again for another wait. Colin left, so I had a quick chat with William before he departed. The next half hour or so was very frustrating. I had staked out a good spot with a clear view, but the Two Barred never obliged, with only the occasional glimpse from time to time. Several Firecrests were more visible, but even so, I was never able to get the camera onto any birds, so with conditions deteriorating (drizzle and fog all day getting worse) I eventually left without any photos. Then again, neither did most of the other photographers.
Initially I had thought about spending the afternoon elsewhere-maybe Portland or Poole harbour but with visibility down to 200 yards in places we decided it wouldn't be worth it, and the run back was rather slow anyway as the M3 was shut, which wouldn't have been much fun had we been coming back in the rush hour.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Rock Thrush Video

Uploaded to Youtube

Autumn Colours

I went for a walk around Aston End on Sunday. I woke up to find it very misty, but gradually the Sun started to break through and the garden was illuminated by a lovely golden light.
I set off through the plantation with sun beams shining through the pines and I was looking forward to getting out into the countryside. At which point the light went out. The wind picked up and as the mist lifted, it was replaced by a thick cloud layer, and it became rather chilly. Very disappointing.
Birds were in rather short supply as well and it was hard finding anything. What wasn't helping were the farming activities, most of the fields have just been ploughed and tractors were out and about in force-some seemed to be sowing seed, others spraying something which didn't smell all that nice.
May explain why I haven't been feeling great the last couple of days.
Anyway, once I got onto the Walkern road, and then down to the paddocks, things did pick up a bit. There were several Skylarks, including one or two singing. some Meadow Pipits, and a few Linnets and Yellowhammers flying over. I got my first Redwings of the autumn too, with initially four birds seen, then another flock of 15, all heading down the Beane Valley.
I eventually managed to find some autumn colours.

Yesterday I received a package from Germany-a Leica digiscope adaptor for the spotting scope. On the GX8 it gives effective focal lengths of 1710mm at 25x and 3420mm at 50x. The focal ratios are very slow and it needs good light and high iso's to get sharp images. A test soon after it arrived wasn't successful. The light was very poor thanks to ex Hurricane Ophelia with a really weird sepia tint to everything and a dark red Sun (on the rare occasions it could be seen) thanks to Portuguese wildfires and Sahara dust. This is an iPhone snap of the garden mid afternoon.

I tried this morning in good light. I discovered I really needed the phone app to control the camera thanks to the very high magnifications. This is a Leonotis half way down the garden from the patio, so around 25-30 feet away. The flower is maybe 2" across.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Rock Thrush

Way back in May 1995 I had a memorable day in Norfolk twitching a superb male Rock Thrush at Holme. I spent a couple of hours with it from about five in the morning, before spending the rest of the day elsewhere, but it was so good that I went back that evening for seconds.
There haven't been many since, and of the 28 records, only two since have really been available-one for five days on Scilly in 1996 and a two day female at Spurn in 2013. As Colin wasn't available for the Holme bird, I was surprised at his lack of enthusiasm about my suggestion of going for the Spurn bird, but I think he had decided he would only go for something  more colourful.
He was rather keen when I phoned on Friday to tell him that there was a nice male bird at that well known Mediterranean bird attractor of the hills north of Blaenavon in south Wales (many hundreds went to see the Marmora's Warbler there in 2010).
We arrived around 1030, and managed to find a parking spot on the narrow lane at Pwll Du right by the start of the footpath to the quarries, and we quickly unpacked and joined the constant stream of birders. The forecast had been for a warm sunny day, and I was rather unhappy to find that it was rather cold, very windy and drizzly at times-I only had my fleece on. I had also brought my Nikon slr, Zeiss lenses and filters expecting to get some nice landscapes but decided to leave them in the car due to the poor light. I took the 500mm, converters and the GX8, and Colin took my scope.
When I got to the bird, it was showing on scree beyond the quarry but quickly flew off before popping up briefly again and then dropped out of view. After about twenty minutes most of us headed off in the direction it had flown, where we found a small group watching it at fairly close range. It put on a good show for us actively feeding on beetles, and seemed to be very curious about the assembled crowd, peering down at us intently.

Apart from the Rock Thrush, there were a couple of Wheaters, lots of Rock Pipits, a couple of Red Kites, some Nuthatches  and Jackdaws. We spent some time around the quarry as there were three Ring Ouzels present, but they proved to be very elusive though I and one or two others had distant 'Blackbirds' flying over the hill top which we presumed to be Ouzels.

Unfortunately we weren't all that familiar with the birding sites of South Wales apart from the Forest of Dean, so we thought about scenery as I had brought all the gear with me. Colin found Tintern Abbey after a quick search, but when we got there, the light was awful as were the crowds so we thought we'd come home via Westonbirt Arboretum. This was a bit of a mistake as the car park was virtually overflowing by early afternoon-it really needs to be avoided at weekends, so we decided not to go in.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Wilson Phalarope

I started my usual two weeks off this weekend, and, as usual it looks to be pretty hopeless for the east coast if the long range forecast is to be believed. With a bit of luck, one or two things might appear.
I went down to Kent on Sunday with Colin, as there were a few long staying birds which would be worth seeing. The plan was to visit Oare Marshes and then see what happens.
Oare has had a couple of regular returning American birds-a Bonaparte's Gull seems to spend part of summer there, and a Long Billed Dowitcher winters. We have been for both in the past and failed to see either. The gull departed some time ago, but the Dowitcher has been joined by a Wilson's Phalarope. We haven't seen one in a long time, in fact twenty years ago when one was at Staines (unfortunately the day of Princess Diana's funeral so we had to get in and out of London before everything shut down. I was back home by 8am). 
Car parking at Oare was the usual mess so Colin dropped me off on the road side. The Phalarope was rather easy being the nearest bird and doing it's typical spinning madly feeding routine. The Dowitcher was a bit harder as it was some way off on one of the mud banks. Plenty of other waders present-Redshank, Ruff, Black Tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Snipe, with Oystercatcher, Curlew and Bar Tailed Godwits on the Swale. Lots of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were flying around and we found a nice Wheatear near the car park. 
Walking around the perimeter, Bearded Tits were pinging everywhere, and we heard lots of Cetti's Warblers, found a couple of Stonechats and bumped into Darryl and Tony Hukin coming round the other way. They put us onto our other target, the Black Necked Grebe which was very hard to see in the river channel-the tide was well out and the river was all but invisible. We had to go down to the sluice on a bend and look up the channel to see the grebe a long way off.
Back on the road, the Phalarope was still performing, and the Dowitcher had flown out and was now within camera range, but never really posed well for me.

 With nothing much on the pager, we decided to visit Dungeness. This seemed to be a mistake as the Ashford road was closed and the diversion down a very narrow lane was all but grid locked at times, but we eventually got there.
 A Temminck's Stint had been reported earlier so we made enquiries when we got to the visitors centre-the lady on duty had been volunteering here since 1955 (!) and told me a bit of what it was like in the early days. She pointed us in the direction of some of those looking at the Stint.
Worryingly one was on the phone saying the Stint had black legs and looked to be very grey on the back. Not what one expects with Temminck's and not really ideal for Little either. Some of them were thinking of Semi-Palmated Sandpiper.
Unfortunately the bird was a long way off and we were looking through glass windows, but it did look interesting. Colin and I headed off to the adjacent hide where we found it again, still a long way off, but it was very flighty and soon headed off west. We then walked over to the western end of the pit, joined a few others and carried on searching. A normal Little Stint was found, as were five Great White Egrets and a Marsh Harrier. We never found the suspect Semi-P and later the pager simply reported two Little Stints.

 We went down to the power station and had a quick look at the sea. Lots of Herring, Black Headed and Lesser Black Backed Gulls over the outfall with three Mediterranean Gulls and several Gannets. 
A Woodlark had been reported around the old Lighthouse in the morning, and it would have been nice to find a Black Redstart, or a few warblers but the area was pretty quiet so after a few landscape images we packed up and returned home.