Sunday, 8 September 2019

Boobyless

The St Ives Brown Booby did a bunk and wasn't seen on the Sunday-the crippling views on the rocks had tempted a lot to go down, so lots of very unhappy birders.
Amazingly, another was found on the Lizard at Kynance cove the next day. This one was a younger bird and luckily had a habit of noosing on one of the rocks close offshore. Needless to say it was very popular, and on Friday many went down and got amazing views. It was seen at dusk roosting on the usual rock, promoting Lee Evans to tweet that anyone going on Saturday was guaranteed to see it.
Colin picked me up at 1am and we headed off on the long drive, arriving in Kynance car park just as it was getting light.
After a quick coffee and a bite we headed off west with the ever growing throng. It was rather chilly and windy but conditions soon improved. What I assumed would be a quick stroll to the cliff top actually turned out to be a bit harder than expected as we had to cross a deep coombe and the other side involved a climb up from the beach on some very slippery serpentine rocks to reach the steps cut further up. Not very enjoyable and it took it out of a lot of the elderly and infirm which comprised a substantial section of the crowd.
I reached the top overlooking Gull Rock and settled down to wait having met up with William Bishop. As soon as the light improved I could see lots of Gannets moving westward about a mile offshore. Smaller black and white birds mainly moving east were Manx Shearwaters-not auks as first thought. In the first couple of hours at least 500 were seen, probably a severe underestimate. Among them were a few dusky individuals two of which were certainly Balearic Shearwaters. I rarely sea watch in the far west, so seeing huge numbers rather than the handfuls in the channel and the North Sea was nice.
Several Arctic Skuas were seen, including one attacking a Peregrine out at sea, which was a bit different. Apparently Bonxies and Poms were also seen by some, but the only other decent seabird I got onto was a nice but very distant Sooty Shearwater dwarfing the two Manx it was with.
Landlords were heading south all morning, with Grey and Pied Wagtails, Tree and Meadow Pipits, a couple of Wheatears and some Linnets.
Entertainment came from the very confiding Chough which are now well established here and seemed to be far tamer than the Welsh birds we used to see on Anglesey.




As for the Booby, well one guy claimed to see it flying low over the water between the two islands, and seconds later there was a claim about a mile east on the sea off a reef. This turned out to be a fishing Shag. Don't know what the guy saw, others were looking in that area and didn't see anything.
It usually left the roost just after 7am and would then fish in the bay for a bit and then move off, returning from time to time. Not today. We stuck it out until noon and then gave up and by then so had many others.
Approaching London I heard that it had been seen a couple of times in the afternoon, also single observer sightings, and apparently it may have been seen by a few about a mile east of us late afternoon. These reports have met with some scepticism.

Heres the rock where it wasn't seen flying over. Shot from the cliff near the car park.


Saturday, 31 August 2019

Nice Yellow Wagtail Aston End

Had it not been incredibly hot last weekend, I would have taken a walk round Aston End on the Bank Holiday Monday, so with the weather being a bit better I did it today. If news been positive yesterday Colin and I would have tried to get the Brown Booby off St Ives in Cornwall, but with no sighting since early Thursday morning we decided not to go down there. Its a long exhausting overnight trip, not something I enjoy these days, as it really takes it out of me.
Anyway, the two hour five mile stroll wasn't too bad, but it seemed that birds were in short supply. No Skylarks for example. All the fields had been harvested, and some already ploughed, so whether the breeding birds had been pushed off or not Im not sure. I've tended to assume there is a small permanent population supplemented by migrant and wintering birds.
Basically the usual circuit started in the plantation by Gresley way where there was a big tit flock. The hedges along the lanes were pretty quiet with odd Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps now and again, and a rather smart Lesser Whitethroat at Lords Farm. Now and again small parties of Swallows were heading south, with a much bigger feeding flock near the paddocks by the river. While watching them, I heard a Yellow Wagtail. Initially I assumed it was a flyover but I heard it again and saw it in a ploughed field. Got a few photos before it eventually flew east.



There aren't many flowering plants around in the fields and margins, so there weren't many butterflies, thought Small Whites were seen frequently. There were a couple of Painted Ladies in a small sunny spot, and there were a couple of Red Admirals, Peacocks and Speckled Woods, plus a single Common Blue.

Got home to discover that the Booby had been seen at well from 1030am on the eastern side of the bay and then settled on rocks close to shore in St Ives itself, then flew off west around 1230.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Hot Bank Holiday

Glad we didn't go to the coast on Sunday.  Heard that there were queues all along the approach road to Holme jam packed with holiday makers with the wardens only letting a car through when someone left the car parks. Good job there wasn't a rarity there (like in 1993 when we turned up on spec to find that a Ruppels Warbler had just been found). Think it was the same everywhere, the very hot spell encouraging everyone to spend a day at the seaside.
We decided to avoid any traffic woes and stay inland, around the Chilterns. It was a bit hot though and the afternoon got a bit unpleasant.
We started off at RSPB Otmoor, a place we often end up visiting during August, though not normally this late. Unfortunately the seasonal trail through one of the meadows had been closed due to the breeding Turtle Doves (which we didn't see and they may have already departed). The nearby feeders had a lot of tits, some Chaffinches and Goldfinches and there were a few Bullfinch knocking around as well.
The grazing marsh was bone dry and there weren't any chats around, but a lovely Yellow Wagtail dropped down onto the overhead wires briefly.


Colin had bought a new scope and we were testing it out on a nice juvenile Whitethroat in the blackthorn. While we were watching, a Brown Hairstreak flew past. Good job too as we couldn't find any later along the Roman Road.
Lots of big dragonflies with several Southern and Brown Hawkers, hoards of Migrant Hawkers, Common and Ruddy Darters. One Black Tail Skimmer provided some variety, but strangely there weren't any damselflies of any kind.
We walked up to the northern blinds overlooking the pools but didn't get a great deal. We were told there was a Great White Egret around, and we missed a big flock of Greenshank that had dropped down onto one of the scrapes.
No sign of any Hobbies, Marsh Harriers or Cranes either so it was a bit of a let down really. One Migrant Hawker did the decent thing and settle down to pose for the camera, though it was rather hard to reach with the 60mm macro. The Ruddy Darters were a bit more obliging.



After lunch we drove down to Warburg. Rather too late for any of the orchids (which had been bad again this year with most being eaten). The wardens are looking at ways of reducing the damage.
We didn't get many butterflies here, apart from Common Blues, whites and a Brimstone. As it was getting very hot and humid we kept to the shaded rides but did venture out to the furthest meadow to see the Chiltern Gentians. There is some debate as to whether they are Chiltern, Autumn or hybrids and they are due to be investigated shortly.
The first one I saw I assumed to be a pale Autumn as it was rather narrow, and the ones we saw further along were much better with broad petals and much much wider than the ones up on Therfield Heath the day before. Whatever, thy are nice.





Saturday, 24 August 2019

A Couple of Ticks

Hertfordshires had a couple of good butterfly records this week. There has been a Queen of Spain Fritillary at Patmore Heath (not seen since Thursday) and the first Adonis Blues since 1959 at Therfield Heath.
After taking Mum shopping I popped over to Therfield-actually Church Hill by Fox Covert. It was warming up nicely and not too hot. Not many birds about, various miscellaneous ticks and tweets in the wood so I didn't linger and went straight for the hill. Mike Illett was there and had found a male Adonis but it wasn't flying, just sat down with its wings closed. It did fly a couple of times but proved hard to photograph.
We were joined by another enthusiast from Hitchin and the extra coverage meant that we eventually found several males and one or two females. Mike eventually got an open wing shot but I didn't and had to settle for an underwing pose with just a hint of black and white the upper wing edge.


Still plenty of Chalkhill Blues, some Common Blues and Brown Arguses, several Painted Ladies and a few Whites, plus singles of Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock.
Mike had been over to check the local Quail earlier but they weren't calling so I headed back to Stevenage and stopped off at Fairlands Lake. Its been pretty good for waders this year, most seen early morning around the main lake, but a Green Sandpiper had been found on the balancing pond and was still present when I got there. Fairlands used to be a regular haunt but has been neglected to some extent particularly with changes to my work routine, so it was a nice local tick for me.

Monday, 19 August 2019

A Visit to Amwell Cut Short

Another weekend without any photographs.
Saturday was supposed to be rather windy, with showers at times, so I did the usual shopping run and followed up with some garden pottering. Turned out to be rather nice and perhaps I should have gone out somewhere. Still, glad I decided to not go to the Bird Fair as it seems to have been a rather muddy one.
The forecast for Sunday should have been pretty good, warm and sunny but there wasn't much around so I popped down to Amwell in the hope of going round Hollycross for the dragonflies. I wasn't expecting much and Barrys greeting along the lines  "hope you've going to give us a laugh and cheer us up" more or less confirmed my suspicions.
I had apparently missed the local Peregrine and a few late Swifts had gone through so there were a few things about. Despite the rather good conditions of the lake shore and water levels there weren't any waders apart from a reasonable number of Lapwing and two mobile Common Sandpipers. A couple of times everything was put up by the two resident Sparrowhawks and one Hobby was hunting over the woods. The only other raptors were four Buzzards.
Didn't seem to be any wildfowl other than the summering birds, and only one Common Tern remained from the small breeding colony. Everyone had gone for the usual Sunday walk about leaving me with Ron so we spent some time chatting, but abut an hour after I arrived rain started to set in-not in the forecast and it gradually got heavier. This brought in an adult Common Gull-my first of the winter and a small flock of Sand Martins. Ideally it should have brought in a decent wader and we stuck it out for a bit but as nothing arrived we both decided that it wasn't worth getting wet so we called it a day. Naturally by midday it was warm sunny and dry.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Brief Views of a Little Bustard in Yorkshire

Earlier this year, a Little Bustard as present at Slimbridge for a few days, but I wasn't able to get there. It wasn't exactly showing well, apparently being a long way off in long grass and usually only the head sticking up from time to time was all most ever got. The fact that the Barnacle Geese were doing (and looking almost) the same wasn't a great help.
Earlier this week, a photo of a male Little Bustard appeared on social media and was soon pinned down to fields adjacent to the river Aire at Mickletown near Castleford. It had apparently been present for some time. Access arrangements were made and it showed quite well at times and plenty of photos soon emerged. Unfortunately work got in the way as it usually does and I was only free on Sunday. Not to worry, as despite an attack by a local Peregrine it was still showing very well on Saturday even if the weather wasn't great.
Colin and I arrived on Sunday morning to discover a large line of people along the permitted track and no bird. I was told that it had been seen first thing and then walked out of view in a low lying field north of us. The problem was twofold. At the top of the path, being higher, views were possible if it showed feeding along a grassy fence line, but the angle was bad and only a small area was viewable by a distant gate. Almost zero from the only space I could get. Further down in the crowd, more fence was visible but vegetation obscured any views and only the head and neck was likely to be seen.
To make matters worse, there were lots of tall people, many wearing hats and 90% of the time I couldn't even see anything at all. It took a long time and a lot of manoeuvring to get a position where I was able to see anything. Added to that new people were constantly arriving and some though nothing of pushing through and standing in front of us, so there were lots of words exchanged, and tensions at times got high.
Sometime around 1030 some of my mates departed, having observed from much further down the path, they had head and beak views but not much else. Around 11, Chinese whispers seemed to suggest that someone had seen it somewhere but directions were vague and contradictory. There seemed to be a language problem as well, as what those around me seemed to think we should be looking two posts left of a gate actually turned out to be behind two poppies! Needless to say by the time we found the poppies it had vanished from view. A bit later, a further sighting near a small willow bush caused confusion as directions involved several stumps. These turned out to be fence posts. I actually had my scope pointing in the right spot anyway, but never saw anything, although several birders thought they could see something moving in the area. The same thing happened a while later in the direction of a big patch of teasels. Unfortunately I had a big hat blocking that part and I ended up on a smaller patch, so by the time I realised this, shifted the scope slightly it had vanished. I think that all of these sightings, if genuine involved a very obscured bird feeding along the fence behind a lot of tall thick grass and may not necessarily have been the Bustard.
By midday I was getting a bit tired, hungry and very thirsty. Backache and leg cramps were kicking in as well, and I was starting to feel like giving up and trying again some other time when hopefully it would be a lot more obliging. However around 1230 someone behind yelled that it was in front of the gate and I swung the scope round and finally got to see the thing. It was only in view for 10, maybe 20 seconds but it was good enough and a big relief. Unfortunately only a small percentage of the assembled crowd was able to get on it, and many couldn't even see the gate anyway.
Apparently there were a few sightings later in the day but I know many left disappointed throughout the day. To make matters worse, despite expectations that it would stick around there was no sign on Monday and a search of the fields by locals and the farmer failed to locate it. Hopefully its still around somewhere.
We spent an hour or so in the early afternoon at RSPB Fairburn Ings just to unwind a bit . This is one place where Willow Tits are still reliably seen, and a place we hadn't been to before. It turned out to be a lot bigger than expected and there were many miles of track around the many pools left over from coal mining. We initially went round a small loop around a pond dipping area, taking in several feeding stations. While we had several big tit flocks, a Treecreeper and some Tree Sparrows we near saw or heard Willow Tits. Brown Hawkers and Common Darters were frequent, along with a few Emperors. A walk east along what was called a river path to one of the larger lakes didn't produce a great deal. More tits, a few Willow Warblers and some wildfowl on the lake. I did wonder if the path, which followed a ridge along what I assumed to be a spoil heap might have some interesting plants-orchids were mentioned on the guide map, though I didn't find anything out of the ordinary.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Broxbourne and Danemead.

Though a bit late in the year for some of the butterflies I popped into the Broxbourne complex for an hour or so on Sunday morning.
I started off at Broxbourne west car park and did the usual circuit around what is now the grazed heathland. Birds were in short supply apart from a few tit flocks and several loud Nuthatches. A few crests and Chiffchaffs were heard, but the only warbles actually seen were two juvenile Garden Warblers which was a bit different.
Butterflies were out in force with lots of Meadow Browns, Skippers, Peacocks and whites, and a few lingering Ringlets. Didn't see any blues which was a it odd, and there were only a couple of rather tatty Silver Washed Fritillaries and one slightly better individual.



No Purple Emperors or White Admirals as expected, though i do wonder if they are still around since the area was opened up and much of the sallow trees and scrub had been cleared. The small oak trees were scanned but I only managed to see one Purple Hairstreak.
The pond has become very shaded and I only saw a few Common Blue damsels here. I did find one Southern Hawker and a few Migrant Hawkers, one of which posed nicely.



 Danemead was much the same, including, weirdly, yet again a Garden Warbler showing quite well.
No fritillaries which was a bit unusual, but there were a few Painted Ladies in the meadow. The Spittlebrook actually had some water flowing for once, though the adjacent pond had dried up. I had hoped that there would be a few epipactis helleborines (broad leaved is the expected orchid here) in flower but I couldn't find a single plant in any of the usual places. Not sure if its slugs or deer but I haven't seen any here for a few years now.