Friday, 23 November 2018

Red Necked Grebe

Colin and I had a fairly short day out last Sunday, and ended up visiting a couple of sites new to us.
The intention was to go to Holme Fen and see the regular Rough legged Buzzard (we saw one here a few years ago) plus the Short Eared Owls. However, with thick fog at home and further north, we decided to try a couple of other long staying birds.
Ferry meadows in Peterborough is a well known  spot and regularly featured in one of the birding magazines back in the 80's and 90's, but I have never been there before. However since we were in the area and there was a now rather scarce Red Necked Grebe present we headed there first. We eventually left the fog behind, and arrived to bright sunshine and a rather heavy frost. Needless to say it was rather cold as well.
The grebe had been seen regularly near the site of the Roman barn not far from the car park so we went straight there. Unfortunately, while there were a few Great Crested Grebes here, plus a few Mallards and Tufted Ducks, most of the birds seemed to be on the far side so we gradually made our way there with the occasional detour to the other bodies of water on the way.
M most of the dabbling ducks were on one of the smaller reedy lakes and some looked really stunning in the cold sunshine, so i had to get a few snaps of the nearby drake Wigeon.

We eventually reached the far side of the main lake where the ducks were and started scanning, but failed to find the Red Necked. However, in a short space of time Colin found one of two treecreepers which proved hard to track in the camera and while we were trying to follow on of them two very loud Kingfishers flew past. I managed to get a few Treecreeper images.

 Continuing on to the car park I stopped off to get some shots of the autumn colour by the river.

Checking over the lake form a new vantage point I spotted two Grebes near the distant island, heads tucked in but swimming purposefully. One looked a bit small and dark but unfortunately remained a long way off. Shame really as the nearby bay would have been a better location. It must have read my mind as it gradually made it's way towards us and ended up feeding in the bay very close to us. Probably the closets we have ever got to this now rather rare grebe.

After a cup of coffee we went through a few options and chose Stanwick gravel pits, another new site. Expecting a typical mature pit complex we discovered it was more of a country park using the disused railway line, so proved to be an easy stroll. We were after egrets, though reports suggested they were at the far northern end a mile away.
There were a lot of Redwings on the way up, and a rather nice bonus of a very loud low flying Raven.

We reached the last pit, found the herd of cattle and noted two egrets in the water though a long way off. The larger one was obviously a Great White and the smaller appeared to be a Little-confirmed when I was able to access the field edge. Not what we wanted though. I spent quite some time checking the cattle and a flock of sheep in a field further north, but it seemed like our target Cattle Egrets weren't present. Disappointed we started to return bumping into a birder and letting him know we were unsuccessful.
About ten minutes later I was some way back to the car and had found a small Goldcrest flock containing a single Chiffchaff when we heard someone call us. A jogger had appeared and she asked us if it we were looking for Cattle Egrets. Having confirmed that we were,  we found out the birder we had chatted to had found them and asked her to pass the message on. Very gratefully we made our way north again.
 As it turned out we were only a few hundred yards short of a second field with cattle in, and there were three Cattle Egrets with them. Thanks to the obscuring bushes and their mobility it was hard to get decent images but, I ended up with some decent shots.

After lunch we finally drove over to Holme Fen, meeting up with a group of regulars parked by what barely passes for a road and spent some time scanning the area. They told me that the Buzzard had been seen on and off to the north, and had on previous days been quite close to the road, but the one report earlier in the day had it perched in a tree around a mile to the north east. The regulars were waiting for the Short Eared Owls, of which up to six are wintering here, but they hadn't shown by 2pm. As I needed to get home before dark to get some of the more tender plants into shelter, we left them to it. The camera lens I had wasn't ideal for low light flight images anyway, so if we get another opportunity I hope to be better prepared.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Autumn Colours, Aston End and the Garden

Last Sunday I went for a walk around Aston End again, with the intention of capturing the autumnal scenery. Unlike my last visit, two weeks previously, it was rather dull and overcast and I wasn't expecting much. However the leaf colour had improved, and the spindles in particular had changed from a dull pink to a rather nice red.

 Birds were a little hard to find, and it seemed to be a lot quieter than last time. There were a few Skylarks and Meadow Pipits flying around the fields, but eight Yellowhammers was a big improvement. It took a bit of time but I eventually located some thrushes. 18 Fieldfare, 9 Redwings and two Mistle Thrush were found around the horse field along with a few Blackbirds. Birds were mobile so I might have missed some-no Song Thrushes for example which was a bit odd.

This morning while pottering in the garden I took a few photos. Although a lot of the plants are now well past their best, there is still some colour, and the few bees and insects enjoying the warm sunshine still have a lot of flowers, mainly bulbs, sages and fuchsias to feed on.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Autumn Colours and Landscape

Back at work after my two weeks off, so I am going through recent images and working on a few.
After the long trek to Cornwall on Friday, I spent the next couple of days recuperating.
 I carried on working in the garden ,but rather less strenuous than of late. This meant getting the last of the autumn planting in-a nice Hydrangea aspera which has replaced a rather large but tatty and not very manageable purple leaved Elder. I had misgivings about taking the Elder out, as the birds like it, but it is a martyr to greenfly, and because it is by the steps to the gate, the honeydew is a problem, and the unruly leggy growth gets in the way. The hydrangea seems to be a very good late summer bee plant and the cover provided should be useful. Ive also put in a climbing rose beside it, to grow over the shed and up the Rowan-not sure what it is as Sarah found it growing wild by the river Lee some years ago. Its rather larger than anticipated and had to move it from the path side fence as it was getting in the way. Other than that, its been a gradual preparation for the colder weather, which from the forecast is likely to be next weekend. Not looking forward to it with the huge quantity of tender and half hardy plants I have to deal with.
In the meantime it has still been warm and sunny during the daytime. I had Skylarks going over the garden every day, and also had a couple of Fieldfares and Redwings as well, so despite the fairly still conditions, birds are moving.
On Sunday I had a stroll round Aston End with the intention of getting some scenic photos. Luckily I left fairly early and there was still a bit of mist in the air which produced one or two worthwhile images.

By the time I hit Aston End, it had cleared though remained damp underfoot and the dew remained in places all morning. The dogwoods, maples and viburnums were colouring up nicely and it seems to be a good berry year as well, though a lot of the spindles are a rather pale pink rather than the more appealing red.


The fields are largely planted now-brassicas are popular this year. There are a lot more Meadow Pipits and Skylarks than last month, but I had a hard time finding much else. Two Chiffchaffs and a few Yellowhammer, Chaffinch and Greenfinch seemed to be the best that I could manage. A couple of gull flocks went through, one consisting of about a dozen Lesser Black Backs went north, and a small flock of Black Headed and Common Gulls were wheeling around over the ford before drifting west. Best birds were probably the 22 Fieldfares along the river near Lords Farm. Could be the first of the usual wintering birds, but they might just be passing through.

I tried to  get a few scenic shots while in Cornwall, but the lighting wasn't great. This shot of the tin mine at Ballowal Down worked best as a B&W image with some grain and contrast, a bit reminiscent of the old Tri X film. Might need to tinker with it a bit more.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Gray Catbird

Since the trip to Norfolk, most of my two weeks off has been rather quiet. What didn't really help, was a bad day last Friday followed by a couple of days of very high winds and heavy rain. This apparently didn't bring in the birds, but is caused some problems in the garden.
A lot of the plants have got rather battered, though there was no long term damage. However the plastic greenhouse that I have had on the patio for a couple of years was found on Monday to be leaning at a bad angle, and a couple of the shelves had dropped down, though thankfully nothing was damaged. I temporarily tied it all together, got it straightened but it was clear it wouldn't last much longer-the plastic cover was in pretty poor condition with a broken zip and large holes where the plastic had suffered from the sunlight. I was thinking about getting a new cover,  but had a look on line for lean too greenhouses. Even the smallest aluminium ones seemed to be too large, but `I found a wooden self assembly model that looked ok, and arranged delivery for Wednesday.
Big problem turned up on Tuesday, in the form of a Grey Catbird in Cornwall. The first UK record (apart from one each on the Channel Islands and Eire) was on Anglesey in 2001. Weather conditions as I remember weer appalling and not everyone saw it. It was according to some (but vociferously denied by others) seen by a few next day, and became rather controversial as a result. I never went-the weather put me off, but I remember seeing Lee Evans a couple of days later at Prawle while twitching a Bobolink and had a chat about it.
Anyway I wasn't expecting it to stay. A few friends went down on the Wednesday while I started to assemble my new Greenhouse. This took much longer than expected and its was clear that I would still be working on it the next day so I called Colin. Unfortunately he was going to be busy on Friday so it looked like it would be a Saturday trip-and it was doubtful if the Catbird would still be around. However Colin called on Thursday and said he had rearranged work, so Friday was possible. It was tense as there had been no sighting since lunchtime bit when it was seen to go into roost that evening we made arrangements.
Seven hours later, at 2am we were on the road, and made good time, arriving at the parking field at Treeve Moor half a mile from Lands End at 745 am. There was a small crowd in the field, but no sign of the Catbird, though I heard it call a couple of times. The other side of the house had a larger crowd and not long after we set up seemed to be interested in something so most of us went round to join them. A quick peek through someone's scope revealed a dim Catbird in the hedge (ironically not far from where we were originally) and over the next hour it put in several appearances as the light improved. My best views were in a bramble by the pond, not more than 30 yards away. Good job I had the 500mm lens with a 2x converter as I got pretty good close ups, thought he light levels weren't ideal.

There were a lot of thrushes around. Mainly Blackbirds, with several Song Thrushes and a couple of Redwings over. Ring Ouzels were being reported all around the coast though and one was later seen here. Also one or two Richards Pipits seemed to be lingering in the area, but the only other good birds I saw were two Chough over the hill east of us. Though calling loudly only a couple of us noticed them. These were the first i'd seen in England-all previous birds had bee on Anglesey and it has been a long time since were were last there.
Had a chat with Mike Illet in the car park while trying to decide where to go next. Colin and I decided on Ballowal Barrows near Cape Cornwall where three Vagrant emperors and several red Veined Daters had been seen previously. While the landscape was very nice-superb coastlines, old tin mine chimneys and the barrows we couldn't find any dragonflies in the cool breezy conditions-a few were seen later in the day some way away from where we were.
Mike had gone to Drift reservoir and reported the three Ring Necked Ducks so we went there as well. Unfortunately a car load was packing up saying they were no longer there so they started to drive off. Meanwhile the couple scoping the water called me over to question the three ducks he was looking at-Ring Necks! Despite waving them back the car load ignored us and drove off. The duck were a long way off, but clearly female/juvenile birds. A scan of the gulls and ducks failed to find anything else of interest.
We were now approaching noon and made the decision to return home. It would have been good to search one of the valleys or  head to Porthgwarra-a lot of very hard work in every case with maybe nothing to show, and had we been down for a couple of days we would have tried Cot or Nanqidno. On the way back Colin indulged me and we stopped off at Hardy Exotics Nursery outside Penzance. Bit like a kid in a sweetshop unfortunately. However I was very restrained and kept my purchases to a couple of foliage Begonias (including a replacement for one I had lost in spring) and ignored a lot of very tempting plants.
The journey home was pretty good. There were the usual slow sections on the M4, needing diversions and also around the St Albans stretch of the M25, but the slowest bit by far was the last three miles as Stevenage was well and truly stuffed and my bit seemed to bear the brunt of the traffic problems.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

October Holiday Starts with a Barred warbler

I have started my annual October fortnight off. While there is still a lot of garden work to be done e.g. I painted the shed yesterday and took some stuff down to the tip (not the most thrilling holiday hi light) it means I can keep an eye on garden wildlife. Had a Comma and a Small Tortoiseshell today, plus a few bees and there has been a few Skylarks going over.
On Sunday I went to Norfolk with Colin. The cold and rather wet northerly winds on Saturday promised a bit of interest, considering the rather poor east coast autumn so far. The reports in the evening suggested a few were Yellow Browed Warblers scattered along the coast so it seemed worthwhile to go up and try and get a few things.
The generally clear skies and warm sunshine wasn't ideal when we reached the coast, but the northerly breeze was still continuing. There didn't seem to be a great deal along the lanes between Ringstead and Chosely apart from hoards of Red Legged Partridge and a couple of Pink Footed Geese going over and the barns at Chosely didn't seem to have much either so we continued on to Titchwell, which proved to be rather busy.
As the tide was dropping we headed to the sea, with only the occasional halt. A male Wheatear on Thornham Pool was nice as was a flyover Rock Pipit. The Fresh Marsh was full of duck-mainly Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Gadwall with some Shovellers, Pintail and Tufted. There were lots of Ruff on the muddy patches, with Golden Plover, Lapwing, Godwits and Knot, but only as couple of Avocet. The muddy channels of the now tidal brackish marsh and a few Curlew, Grey Plovers and Redshanks, but most of the waders were on the shore, feeding among the remains of the forest. There were lots of bearded Tits pinging away in the reeds, but a scan of the muddy edges for rails cakes and Jack Snipe didn't deliver.
Offshore there was a constant movement of gulls westwards, including Kittiwake and Little Gulls, and Brent Geese and Wigeon were also heading west. Several Common Scoter flocks were movie around, and a couple of Gannets flew east, but there was little else of note unfortunately. Other had reported Skuas and a Red Necked Grebe and elsewhere a few Manx Shearwater and Leaches Petrels were seen.
Back at the car park we spent a while going through the tit flocks hoping to pick up the Yellow Browed Warbler with them, but with no success.
In the afternoon we spent a couple of hours at Burnham Overy Dunes. Half way up, by the sluice a small crowd had gathered. I noticed a large pale warbler pop out of a small hawthorn and realised they had been looking at a Barred Warbler. The interesting thing is we had hoped to see one here, but it was supposed to be on the boardwalk. Turned out there were two here, and several more on Blakeny and elsewhere.
I managed to get a couple of not very good images-a camera problem meant I had two clean the sd card contacts before I could take photos so missed the best views.

This was our first Barred Warbler since one at Kelling around 2004.
We were told that there were a few Yellow Brows in the west end of Wells Woods and a possible blythi Lesser Whitethroat in the dunes which I was most interested in seeing. I think I found the right patch of scrub but the only birds around were Dunnocks and Stonechats. We didn't get as far as the wood, but I did spend some time scanning the sallows along the north side of Holkham Marsh but didn't find any birds-I suspect that any that had dropped in overnight had moved on.
One annoying thing is I did see a brownish bird fly out of the reeds and along a ditch while we were walking up to the boardwalk. Could have been a Reed Bunting but it looked like a warbler in the brief glimpse I had. Blakeny had a Blythes Reed Warbler that day.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Pallid Harrier at Therfield

I was idly going through tweets on Tuesday night when I found a report of a Pallid Harrier at Therfield that evening. Despite a few people getting there before dark there was no further sign. I wasn't able to go next morning, though Barry Reed posted some nice images early on but became more elusive Deteriorating conditions-with very high winds over the next few days didn't seem to deter observers and the bird was reported daily, though often it would go missing for hours at a time.
This put me off going before work, and again afterwards as I was very time limited, and decided to wait until Saturday.
I had to have a flu jab first thing, and helped Mum with her shopping, but I was able to get there shortly after ten, to discover that it hadn't been seen since nine, and at very long range. I found Tony Hukin and Jay Ward, and had a chat not having seen either for a long time. Tony naturally had been up earlier in the week and had already had good views. After about twenty minutes someone found the bird a long way off to the north. W were observing  on the high ground east of Park Farm and the Icknield Way, and the Harrier was actually over the ridge to the north east of Greys Farm, some 2km away. Despite the distance, the scope views were pretty good and the underwing pattern could be seen, though the neck collar was hard to see.
After a few minutes we lost it-about the time Ray Hooper turned up. He had a small flock of Golden Plover fly past as he approached us-missed by most, but only had to wait ten minutes before the Harrier reappeared. Eventually some decided to head up the Icknield Way to get closer views, but as rain was arriving Tony and I decided to leave. The bird was seen on and off all day, and seems to be favouring the high ground around Greys-There are several photos from the weekend of the Harrier sat on one of the bird tables, which is a bit unusual.
Naturally because of the distance I never got any photos myself.

With the general increase in Pallid Harriers in recent years-mainly juvenile birds like this one (and one or two probable Hen/Pallid hybrids), it was only a matter of time before one would turn up in Hertfordshire, and the Therfield-Bladock stretch was always likely to be the place one would be found, and complete the Harrier set, with regular Marsh and Hen here, plus the Montagues some ten years ago. With a bit of luck it will stick around for the winter.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Last Weekend

The week off work ended up on a fairly quiet note.
Having spent Monday to Friday clearing the garage, taking a boot full  of stuff down to the tip, digging bits of the garden every day, incorporating 400 litres of (wet and heavy) composted bark, several bags of sand and gravel then replanting it was good to have a rest. So I went for a 5 mile walk on Saturday.
Being mid September I tend to think its a good time to find a migrant Redstart locally as they tend to pass through now. Some places seem to be regular spots for them and the paddocks on the Beane at Aston End seem to be one of them. I've had several over the years, and I suspect that they occur every year, but being unable to visit daily I cannot prove that.
As it turned out it was a very dull day from a birding point of view with very little activity. The only definite migrant was a single Swallow heading south near the ford. Three flyover Skylarks here were presumably local birds, and the same could be said of the three Chiffchaffs I heard. Jays were frequently seen, with around ten birds encountered. Generally though, the fields and hedges were quiet, and despite the rather warm conditions insects were in short supply. The ploughed fields didn't seem to attract anything either.
I did get a few butterflies though. In Aston End itself, my only local Painted Lady of the year flew past. One patch of brambles in a sheltered sunny spot had a couple of Commas and a Speckled Wood (with a few of the latter seen elsewhere).

I was a bit undecided about Sunday. I did consider the Osprey at Panshanger, but it often only showed in the afternoons, so I went to Rye Meads. With water levels dropping I had hoped that a wader or two might be present. Well there were two Green Sandpipers. Maintenance work on some of the scrapes had presumably let to some disturbance.
It was a bit breezy and I wasn't expecting to see a great deal, but a few Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers were flying.

Lots of duck were on the north lagoon, including a few Wigeon, but the recent Pintail eluded me. The nearest bird did pose though.

Bumped into Maureen again on the way back. I was talking about the difficulty of trying to find Willow Emeralds in the conditions when one decided to fly out of the sallow beside us and then a second individual appeared. I had pretty much given up on trying to see any this year. Very tricky to photograph, as the 100-400mm lens struggled to focus but I nailed it in the end. The 60mm macro was a lot easier but the short working distance caused me to flush it (though that was the only reason we saw the second individual).