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).

Friday, 14 September 2018

Ravens at Amwell

I have had a week off, mainly to work in the garden. Despite the many hours outside, I didn't get many birds, though the three local Robins took a great deal of interest whenever I did any digging. The only notable birds were two Buzzards over on Thursday, and a Coal Tit in the Rowan on Monday-they are best described as a scarce visitor to the garden.
On Sunday, I did go out for an hour or two. Work at Amwell has cleared much of the area in front of the view point and some deeper pools had been created, so I thought I'd pay a visit just in case the new exposed mud would bring in flocks of waders (never going to happen but we live in hope). William Bill and Barry were there so it was good to catch up as I haven't been down for several months, though I haven't really missed much (apart from the much needed Sandwich Terns the previous Sunday).
The first birds I saw were two Ravens over the woods, seemingly playing with up to four Red Kites. Now and again one would come a bit closer and they were very vocal-easily heard despite the distance. A couple of Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk and two regular Hobbies added to the interest. For most of the regulars the 'highlight' was the feral Barnacle Goose, which may have been the first of the year, and a Redshank briefly.
Also Ring Necked Parakeets were around much of the time with about a dozen flying low over us, and then later in the trees opposite.
As far as waders were concerned, there were only Lapwings on the islands until I picked up a Common Sandpiper. Apparently there are two around and a second bird appeared on the new scrape.
There weren't many ducks around, apart from a few Tufted, Pochard, Mallards and Gadwall. Apparently there have been a few Pintail around and  lots of Shoveller. Presumably the work has disturbed them. Eventually two Teal did appear.
Hirundines were often flying through. I saw a few Sand Martins early on, and there were a few Swallows, but the majority were House Martins, with maybe 50-60 birds in the 2.5 hours I was there. Not a massive count by normal autumns, but they have been really scarce for me this year.
Pretty rubbish shot of one of the Ravens. A long way off and  badly underexposed unfortunately.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

A Wader Weekend

After a long Bank Holiday weekend which due to family commitments meant I didn't go birding, it was good to get out with Colin on Saturday.
I was somewhat uncertain about the trip though, as I had severe back and neck pains and very stiff achy joints. I was also getting over a bit of a stomach bug-the usual problems with my adrenal condition had flared up again. However with a fairly gentle drive up the A1 we eventually arrived at RSPB Framton Marsh just before 9am. It was a nice warm day, a bit of a breeze and the pleasant conditions helped me considerably and we had a good three hours here.
Getting out of the car, I slowly made my way to a small crowd near the closed visitors centre and was immediately struck by the huge numbers of Black Tailed Godwits and Knot on the lagoon-there were thousands of them. I was scanning the flocks when I heard a "hello Phil" beside me, turned round and found Ian Bennell returning heading back to the car after a successful visit. He suggested we go round to the small crowd near the hide where viewing conditions were better and then he headed off to Norfolk.
The viewing conditions were a lot better regarding the lighting but I had a bit of an issue with the reeds, but eventually I was able to get up onto the viewing mound albeit with some difficulty. Along with the words of Godwits and Knot, we saw many tens of Ringed Plover everywhere, Dunlin flocks wheeling around, with maybe six or so Curlew Sandpipers (I found one or two more elsewhere on the reserve later). Rather outnumbered were the few Golden Plovers, Redshanks and Avocets. The first target species proved easier than expected-a sleeping Long Billed Dowitcher on the nearest island. it did eventually wake up and flew further out. A moulting adult, it made a change from the more frequent juveniles and winter plumaged birds we tend to see.

The second target species was incredibly mobile and I had missed it several times when scanning the flocks. The moulting adult Stilt Sandpiper is presumably the one we had seen in February at Stanpit on the south coast, and while easy to pick up in the bins was a lot harder in the camera hooked up to the scope. By now I had realised that I had a bit of a problem digiscoping as I could tell that despite using higher than usual shutter speeds I was getting soft images. Obviously the distance and the heat wasn't helping but I am suspecting that the gimbal mount was introducing a bit of shake. My aches and pains didn't help either.

All the waders went up several times-the first when the visitors centre opened up the shuttered windows and the second when the Peregrine drifted over before returning and failing to take a Dunlin out of the flocks.
Colin and I eventually (rather slowly) left the crowd and did a circuit of the scrapes. To some extent it was very disappointing, with very little water present, so we didn't see a great deal. However there were a lot of Reed Warblers including several confiding juveniles.

On the salt marsh bank we had a flyby Whimbrel, ten Spotted Redshanks on one of the pools (we were told that there were 24 until the Peregrine put them up) and then reached a small herd of cows with a few Yellow Wagtails and Starlings . Out on the grazing marsh more cows had more wagtails-I counted 27 around three of them and with cattle all over the place, many with birds with them,  we reckoned that there could be a hundred or more Yellow Wagtails  on the reserve. Also of note were the large numbers of Sand Martins and Swallows, but strangely no House Martins.
After lunch and feeling a bit tired we headed home, calling in at Graffham. There were seven Black Terns from the marina car park, unfortunately a long way off, along with a few Common Terns. Two Ospreys had been present on Friday and had been reported in the morning, so we spent about an hour checking out the western side where we presumed they would be but we weren't successful. There were a few Kites and Buzzards now and again, plus a calling Tawny Owl and a few Bullfinches.

I wanted to get out again on Sunday-a rather warm morning. I was intending to get to Amwell but messages from Tyttenhanger meant I went there instead. Parking up by the model railway, a flock of Parakeets flew over as I got out of the car, and there were lots of tits and Chiffchaffs in the trees and bushes. Getting to the container by the gate I was told that I had just missed the two Spotted Flycatchers, which were very mobile. I was left to scan the main lake on my own, picking up two of the Common Sandpipers an then decided to check the riverside bushes for the flycatchers. However I got a call and managed to hobble back to one of the big oaks where the flock had been refound and I got decent views of one of the Spotted Flycatchers.
I then carried on around the pit, with not a lot to show. Willow Emeralds have recently been found but I couldn't see any, though Migrant and Brown Hawkers and Common Darters were everywhere.

Up at the farm, another Spotted Flycatcher had been reported but all i saw there were Chaffinches around the feeders so I carried on to the high point meeting up with everyone. Apparently they had a Whinchat in the scopes-a long way off in the sedges and reeds half way out. I couldn't even see a bird at all. One more Common Sandpiper a Snipe and three Green Sandpipers, were present, with several Common Terns and a few Swallows over.
There was nothing in the big hedge but had heard hat the Greenshank was on the fishing pit. A bit of a slog but I eventually found it a long way off on the far bank.

I made another attempt at finding the Willow Emeralds, again without seeing any and eventually left, about an hour later than I had intended.
Had I got to Amwell (having left home about 20 minutes earlier than usual) I would have had a nice county tick with the seven Sandwich Terns that were present until 0930......

Monday, 20 August 2018

Rye Meads and Aston End

On Saturday I spent a few hours in the morning at Rye Meads. It was a toss up between here and Amwell, and while I haven't been to the latter for a couple of months, most of the recent passage waders etc have been seen at Rye so that made my mind up.
The weather was pretty dull and breezy at times but nothing much really happened and there were few migrant birds noted.
The Draper scrape held to only passage wader-a Common Sandpiper that had been present for a few days. There were supposed to be a few Green Sandpipers around as well, but they weren't present while I was there. One juvenile Lesser Black Backed Gull was being fed by one of it's parents-at least when the Heron, little Egret  and crows allowed it. Other than that it was pretty much lots of Teal, Gadwall and Mallards gradually moulting out of eclipse.

On to the lagoons without hearing or seeing much at all. Unlike last weekend, there seemed to be very few warblers around, and there weren't any finches or thrushes either. A quick look at the tern rafts on the southern lagoon didn't produce much variety as the water seemed to be covered in Mute Swans, there must have been 30 or more (with a lot more on the other stretches of water).
The water levels are a lot lower on the Gadwall Hide lagoon than on my previous visit, with the islands starting to appear. Lots of ducks, a few gulls and the occasional flyover Snipe were present-along with two eclipsed Garganey. Initially asleep they soon woke up, preened a bit (proving via the pale wing that one at least was a drake bird) before swimming purposefully over to the back of one of the islands.

I had a quick look for the recently found Wasp Spider but was misled by the trampled vegetation and ended up searching the wrong spot, so I carried on to the Warbler hide overlooking the Meads. A very early returning Bittern had been seen briefly a couple of times over previous days. The departing photographer had not seen it all morning and though I spent a bit of time there didn't see much at all apart from the usual Wood Pigeons, a distant Buzzard and a few Swallows heading south. Bumped into Maureen on the way back who told me where the Spider was. Very cunningly it was right by the sign that had been put up (and hidden from me when I passed earlier).
I have seen a few Wasp Spiders a few times on the East Anglian coast and while they have slowly moved inland and have been in Hertfordshire for a year or two, they are new for the reserve. This one was a hell of a lot bigger than I remember.

I returned to the Gadwall hide, finding Colin Wills who I haven't seen for over a year, so we had a bit of catching up to do, and then Maureen popped in for a bit. The Garganey had not been seen since I last saw them so presumably they were hauled up on the back of one of the islands.
With time pressing I eventually left, picking up a few Small Whites, a Speckled Wood and a couple of Blue Tailed and Common Blue damsels.

Sunday morning was again overcast, dull and rather breezy. I decided to have a long walk around Aston End, and though I hauled the camera gear around, it stayed in the bag as there was a distinct lack of action, and the landscape wasn't all that inspiring either.
The nearly five mile walk produced two calling Chiffchaff and a Blackcap. The usual migrant trap hedge along the Walkern road was scanned for some time but only produced a single Chaffinch and a juvenile Whitethroat.
The fields have been harvested, and the one by the phone mast was being harrowed while I was there and this had attracted around 25 Lesser Black Backed and 40 Black Headed Gulls, while there was a flock of 15 or so Swallows picking up the disturbed insects.