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.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Amwell on Saturday

Colin was thinking of a trip to Kent over the weekend, but I was still feeling a bit under the weather so I decided to go down to the Lea Valley on Saturday morning and see how I felt afterwards.
My initial plan was to go to Cheshunt and see if the Smew was still on Bowyers Water and then walk up to the northern pits for the Goosanders. However, if we were going to Kent there was a fair chance of seeing both at Dungeness so I went to Amwell instead.
It was a bit of a let down when I got there just before 9am. It was cold, overcast and there didn't seem to be much about. A scan of Hardmead Lake from the viewpoint produced two Egyptian Geese, a few Mallard and Gadwall, lots of Coot, a couple of Lapwing, one or two Black-headed Gulls, more Coot and a few miscellaneous geese.
After about 15 minutes I headed down to Hollycross on the nice new gravel track (the work has pretty much finished and they have done a decent job cleaning up afterwards). I hardly found a bird-a few Blackbirds, one Mistle Thrush and a party of Long Tailed Tits. The feeders had a couple of Great Tits and Chaffinches with a fly by Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Thinking I had made a big mistake coming here, I slowly headed off back to the car, with the intention of going to Rye Meads but bumped into William at the Bittern Pool . He wasn't impressed with the lack of birds either. We went up to the viewpoint and found Bill and Phil along with a lot more birds. Something like 40 Wigeon had arrived, Great Crested Grebes had appeared, along with one or two Goldeneye, and there were more gulls as well. Despite the conditions, there were at least seven Buzzard and two Kites, plus some thrushes over the woods.
We went back to Hollycross. No Bittern on the pool, and still no passerines along the track. However we heard some Ring Necked Parakeets and two Redpolls were found were seen on Alders by the cottage. We also heard Siskin, and found a few thrushes. Pretty hard going though and we had to really work to find many of the birds, but in the end a day list of 50 isn't too bad.
Unfortunately I was frozen and didn't really warm up over the rest of the day, and felt really rough in the evening,  so I didn't think it would be a good idea to do Kent on Sunday. To make matters worse, the Crossbills were seen again at Broxbourne.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Broxbourne Again

I was expecting to have a big day out this weekend to help boost my rather pathetic year list-I managed to add Grey wagtail at work to bring it up to a stunning 35. Unfortunately, I spent hours at the hospital on Thursday waiting to have a blood test done and seemed to have picked up a bug-just feeling very tired and a bit sick.
Anyway having told Colin I wasn't feeling great I woke up this morning and decided to go out for a couple of hours. The Broxboure Parrot Crossbills have been seen on and off all week and I still need them for my Herts list. Yesterday was very cold and frosty and today seemed  a bit better but heading down Mangrove Road was rather dicy with the car sliding around on every bend, and with the low sun in my eyes it wasn't a pleasant experience.
I got there at 9, Darren and William had already been there for quite some time with not a lot to show for their efforts. Mike Illet and Richard Pople turned up later, as did a few others. It was bitterly cold even with the sun shining down on us and maybe that affected things as I saw relatively few birds in the two hours that I was there. Great potted Woodpecker was the only new bird for the year, heard a few Siskin again, and tits and Robins were vocal.
No Crossbills again. They seem to be very erratic, some times they may only appear briefly, if at all yet some days they will remain on view for an hour or more. What doesn't help is that these ones aren't all that vocal, and I know from past experience you they can be in the tree right by you and you might not know they are there. Not sure if I would want to go down again, but I expect that they will stick around for a couple of months, so I guess I will have to try at least one more time.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Big Bills for the New Year

Colin and I had a fairly gentle start to the New Year with a fairly short run today. I only managed to get 34 species for the year list, but there were a few good birds, including a couple I hadn't seen for some time. We seemed to get a lot  of the big beaked non water birds today.
Departed at 8am and headed down the A1, and the first good birds were found at Welwyn Garden City. Recently a Ring Necked Parakeet roost at Stanborough has been building and peaking at over 500 birds, but even so, it was a nice surprise when ten or so flew low over the car.
We reached Wishmoor Bottom near Camberly an hour later and joined a steady stream of birders, dog walkers and those out for a New Year stroll. Unfortunately it remained dull, damp and cool all morning, and birds seemed a bit thin on the ground
Following a map and advice from a local dog walker and a returning (successful) , Colin and I ended up a little way off from the rest of the birders overlooking the shallow valley where the Parrot Crossbills have tended to be seen. We had missed a mixed flock of 16 Common and Parrot Crossbills by about twenty minutes and the information suggested that they had been seen flying over the ride where we were situated. A long wait of an hour produced a few birds, including Nuthatch and Redpolls, some Magpies and a Jay. Unfortunately our location was not good for Dartford Warbler (everyone on the other side of the valley seemed to have seen some). We did get a couple of fly over crossbills-the first a deep sounding bird wasn't seen but appeared to be calling from over the high ridge behind and east of us. We assumed Parrot. The second flew north over our heads and was clearly a Common. We headed off following it but bumped into a couple of birders who hadn't heard it. Believing it to be still around we returned to our lookout spot and the couple moved south stopping by some birches where I noticed them pointing cameras.
Approaching them I could see at least two Crossbills in the scope which dropped to the ground and then flew down to a puddle with some other birds. We fired off some shots and I thought one looked rather chunky in the scope, but they then flew off into some pines and were lost to view.

We got closer and realised that there were a number of Crossbills feeding in the pines. No idea how many were in there as they were very hard to see most of the time, but I suspect that ten would be about right. The scope views I had suggested that all were Common and the other three (later four agreed). Not entirely sure about the following male bird though.

The lighting was awful and deteriorating all the time , so the photos weren't all that great.
We left the others around 11am, pointed a couple of others we encountered in their direction and headed back to Herfordshire.
Arrived at Bramfield just after 1pm and joined four others just south of the church scoping the trees in the vicarage garden where one Hawfinch was sitting in the top of one of the trees. Didn't stay all that long as rain arrived.
Shortly after we reached Wishmore, Twitter alerted me to the fact that Mike Illet had seen three Parrot Crossbills at Broxbourne-the first report since I was there Christmas Eve so we decide to get there and hope the birds would come into roost. Met Ade Hall and Jane Free leaving in torrential rain that quickly cleared-they had been on site  for much of the day without success, so we went down to the cross track with a few others and waited. It got sunnier, but colder and apart from a Siskin we didn't see a great deal. Stuck it out until just after three and we all decided to call it a day. Laurence Drummond later reported a Siskin and a Brambling as the only birds coming in to roost.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Broxbourne Woods Christmas Eve

Earlier in the week Barry Reed found three Parrot Crossbills in Broxbourne Woods-part of this autumn's influx. The first records ever for Hertfordshire, and the first in the London recording area since the mid 19th C, so they have been rather popular. Being stuck at work and with other commitments, today was my first available opportunity to get down there.
By the time I got there at 9am, with one other car load in front of me, there had already been one report so it was a case of getting to the right area and waiting. Gradually numbers built up, including Simon West, Darren Bast, David Darrel Lambert, Colin Wills and Richard Pople, so there was plenty of chatting to while away the hours. David had been down yesterday with his recording gear and was using it again today, but unfortunately the Gibbons at the nearby Paradise Wildlife Park were pretty much the only things making a noise this morning.
We had lots of corvids and gulls going over, the occasional Redpoll and Siskin, and the usual species one can find in conifer plantations. Just about the only thing not showing were Crossbills. Richard and I stuck it out until just before noon, before giving up.
One distraction on the way back was a very close flyby Raven which was rather problematic as I was following Richard up the lane and we were both trying to avoid an oncoming car in the very narrow lane.