Sunday, 3 December 2017

A few hours at Amwell

I didn't go on any major birding trips this weekend. The White Crowned Black Wheatear in Scunthorpe was a non starter from the moment the news came out (returned to the aviary yesterday). The recent influx of Parrot Crossbills with a couple of flocks in Berkshire and the Brecks were better but I thought we'd try for those later in the month since Colin wasn't available.
This morning wasn't all that inspiring, overcast, light misty rain at times, but since it has been a while, I spent some time at Amwell this morning.
The recent work by the gas board seems to have gone fairly well so far, with a lot less damage and disruption than expected. Rather more worryingly though is British Rail's determination to close the level crossing on 'safety' grounds even though there have not been any problems in the 30 odd years since I have been visiting. This would make accessing the reserve very difficult, cause major problems for those living on the canal, and prevent any sort of vehicular access to the marina. Fingers crossed on this one.
Water levels are reasonably high considering the lack of rainfall. Lots of Wigeon in today, with some Gadwall, Teal and Shoveller. Only one pair of Goldeneye though. Recently Pintail have been present, and there have been sightings of Goosander as well (presumably wintering in the Cheshunt complex). Lots of large gulls around, with maybe a dozen Greater Black Backs, similar numbers of Lesser Black Backs, some Herrings and a few Common Gulls. A couple of white headed Herrings caught my eye and I spent some time on one particular individual before deciding that it wasn't anything unusual. Pity really as I then picked up a Yellow Legged Gull which quickly moved off, but I managed to get everyone on it and obtained one image. Its the one on the left in the close up.

A walk down to Tumbling Bay didn't produce much in the one tit flock that I found. The alders had the usual Siskin and Goldfinch flock, but no Redpolls. Nothing much on the feeders at Hollycross.
I found a Treecreeper on the way back that performed reasonably well for me (would have got better images if didn't have to change the battery in the camera).

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Birding in a Porsche

Well I finally got a run in Colin's new Macan yesterday. Still not feeling brilliant, with a lingering cough, but we had a short day out in Norfolk. Thoughts that the a walk in the fresh air would help didn't exactly work as it was very cold with a strong wind, but we had a good time.
The car is a bit more compact than the Nissan, handles much better and is far more comfortable. It is also a lot more economical and has a 500+ mile range so long distance twitches should be a bit easier on the pocket. I spent a good deal of the journey  fiddling with the 18-way seat adjustments. I haven't quite got the passenger seat right yet but its close. The one failing of the car, if I can call it that is that the GPS altimeter doesn't like being below sea level, and at one point was reading 19999 feet when we were near Welney. All I need is a lottery win.
We kicked off at Thornham where we hoped to see a wintering flock of Twite. Not much of a challenge as they spent most of the time in the channel just behind the car park.

Viewing from the sea wall was a bit challenging with a very strong wind so I didn't stay long. Scanning the harbour mouth produced the typical selection of Brent Geese, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and assorted gulls. Hopes for a Merlin or Hen Harrier appeared to go out of the window due to a shooting party on Thornham Marsh, though I was later told that it didn't usually cause much disturbance.

Titchwell was pretty quiet for a change, plenty of spaces in the car park. The tide was just about high when we arrived, though it wasn't a big one. Despite this, the fresh marsh was pretty full with only a few small flocks of duck and waders. One Avocet, a small flock of Knot and a few Godwits being the highlight. Seemed to be more Ringed Plovers than usual, but no Ruff, Spotted Redshanks or Greenshank.
Most of the interest was on the sea. This proved to be a bit tricky with the wind and the fairly rough conditions. Most of the birds were some distance out in the heat (!) haze. The usual flocks of Great Crested Grebe and Red Breasted mergansers were in the bay, with a few others scattered over the sea. One or two close Red Throated Divers were easy to identify, but most other divers were a along way out and only one Great Northern was identified with certainty. Also a long way out were a coupe of Great Skuas and many auks. Luckily a few Guillemot and Razorbills were close inshore as were one or two smaller birds-my first Little Auks for several years.
Returning to the car we spent some time scanning the Pink Footed Geese on the grazing marsh but failed to find anything else-Taiga Bean Geese have been seen in the area and a small flock that we saw fly over Thornham was supposed to have a Greenland (?) Whitefront with them. All I managed to see were a few Snipe and Red Legged Partridge.
We called it a day after lunch, not wishing to spend too much time in the cold and returned home via Welney. No raptors or owls, in fact apart from a few Lawping flocks most of the fields were empty, and we only managed to locate two herds of wild swans. The only one we got close to turned out the be Whooper.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Bramfield Hawfinches

I haven't posted anything here for a while now. I did a long circuit around Aston End the Sunday before last, and tried getting some autumn colour landscapes but it was hard work and only a couple of images were worth working on.

I missed last weekend completely as a sinus infection started to take hold. I had planned on either looking for Hawfinches, following the large invasion over recent weeks, going to Tyttenhanger for the Great White Egret, plus several other good birds, and then meeting up with Colin the next day and doing Norfolk. Colin was quite keen, mainly, as it turned out, because he has changed his car and wanted to show it off, but by then I was too ill to consider it.
Ive still got a bad cough, feeling tired and very bunged up, but at least I am mobile. Been back at work for a few days and managed to survive that, so this morning felt like getting a bit of fresh air.
There were a couple of big Hawfinch roosts at Danemead and Broxbourne Woods last night but I decided to try Bramfield Church as a few are present again this winter.

Turned out to be a good move as shortly after I arrived, a couple of guys up from London told me that  they hadn't seen any birds at either roost. The Church yard has had a bit of work done since I was last here and the big limes have been severely pruned, so it is a lot more open now.
The usual birds were present-lots of vocal Nuthatches, a few Coal, Blue and Great Tits, some Goldcrests and Long Tailed Tits and Lots of Jackdaws and Rooks. Redwings seemed to be flying over on a regular basis, maybe 50 at a time, with a few Fieldfare and Song Thrush among them.
Two Hawfinches were eventually located, in one of the trees in the adjacent garden. They sat up in the tree for quite some time before the male flew west towards the woods. The female remained for a while then flew into the vicarage opposite. Some time later, it or another flew out and over the church  and presumably also into the woods.

Luckily I got to see Colin and was able to try out his new car- he's downsized from a Murrano to a Macan, which is a lot more economical to run. And a bit more stylish and upmarket.

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.