Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Slow Start Continues

Fourth weekend of the 2017 and finally I've gone out birding albeit a local walk rather than a big trip.

Went back to work last week, still not over the nasty cold and spent much of the time with a hacking wheezy cough that just won't go away-thats why I didn't feel like doing anything much yesterday. The really severe frost and cold were a bit of a put off as well, but with the clear skies it isn't too bad locally once the Sun has come up, so I went round Aston End this morning.
I wasn't expecting to see much in the way of wildlife, with the recent cold nights so I took some new camera equipment out to get a feel for it and do some landscapes.

The walk through the plantation produced a few tits and magpies but not much else. Bit too cold for the Goldcrests. The lack of birds continued through Aston End, with some sections of Long Lane thick with ice courtesy of an overflowing lane, but two singing Greenfinches and some House Sparrows was good.
Turning off and heading down to the ford, I found a single Buzzard, a few crows and several Blackbirds foraging in the hedge bottoms. The fields were completely frozen, hence no larks, buntings pipits or finches. Also frozen was the river, though some water was still flowing at the ford, and a Robin was doing a very nice Dipper impersonation hopping around on the ice floes.
I followed the river upstream with very few birds still, and it wasn't until I reached the paddocks that I encountered a few Fieldfares, Blackbirds, Robins and Dunnocks. No sign of the Little Owls again but three Stock Doves in their old tree was a bit different as they aren't regular. Another oddity was a flyover Grey Wagtail.
I finally found the (rather small) thrush flock up near the radio mast, feeding under the trees in one of the fields. Seemed to consist primarily of Redwings-maybe 15,  five or six Blackbirds, a couple of Song Thrushes and a single Mistle Thrush. I guess most of the birds have dispersed due to the weather.
Not a massive bird list, though its bright the year up to 32 (!) but at least I got out for a bit.


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Bad Start to the New Year

I managed to get through Christmas without falling prey to an illness for the second year running, but unfortunately I have started the New Year with a heavy cold. I had a bit of a tickle cough and a sore throat New Years eve, so called Colin and let him know I didn't fancy going out for the traditional birding blitz. I had hoped that the Bank Holiday Monday would be a bit better but the weather put me off.
Things improved somewhat during the week, back at work but the cough persisted and then Friday morning the really virulent cold virus that has gone round half the family struck and I have spent the last couple of days in a really bad state. Things have improved a bit today, in that I briefly get a bit of energy in me enabling me to get up and move around, but I suspect based on what the others in the family have gone through that it will take at least a week to get over it and the hacking cough is likely to be with me for some time.

Had a potter round the garden this morning once the sun came out but there isn't much happening. A few marigolds and the Mexican fleabane have a few flowers that have survived the recent frosts and there are shoots of t Snowdrops Cyclamen Iris and early Narcissi emerging.

In the mini greenhouse, a few bulbs are doing well. Here is a pot of Narcissus Cantabricus that I purchased in the autumn. The first one was flowering ten days before Christmas and has only just started going over.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Blue Rock Thrush

Something like 20 years ago Colin and I were up in Norfolk when news broke of a Blue Rock Thrush in the less than likely surroundings of the BP building in Hemel Hempstead. Unfortunately the bird was less than inspiring with a deformed bill and foot and only one eye. Needless to say it was never accepted as a wild bird.
There have only been a few accepted records, with several escaped records of the far eastern subspecies, and it has never been an easy bird to get so when news broke a couple of days ago of one in Stow on the Wold it was met with some scepticism. Funny time of year, some plumage details seemed to be questionable, and it didn't seem quite right for the usual expected sub species. But with the many extraordinary records of asian birds this autumn it is assumed to have arrived with them and    is likely to be one of the asian forms.
Colin and I went there today and it was a pleasant day out. There were a few problems on the road-one car embedded in a lamp post in Milton Keynes, another upside down in a tree on a very icy stretch near the Rollright Stones, and a bit of fog, though nothing like as bad as yesterday.
When we arrived at Stow on the Wold mid morning it was nice and sunny, and not too cold, though with a bit of frost in the shade. It was only a few minutes stroll from the car park to the assembled crowd, but no sign of the bird. One calling Nuthatch, a few tinkling Goldfinches, plenty of Jackdaws and a few Starlings trying hard to deceive us.
Eventually after about half an hour it was found on a roof not too far off, but rather hard to see. It then flew off and I joined a small group behind the house in a garage complex where it posed quite nicely for a bit a lot closer this time. The local Blackbird wasn't too keen on it and flushed it a couple of times and over the next half hour we got some lovely views of the bird perched on roofs, chimneys and window sills-not quite the usual mountainous habitat but it seemed perfectly happy with the houses as a substitute.
I eventually found myself back on the main green where we were treated to very close views and I managed to get a few great images-only need to post this one as I cannot better it.

Before we left Jay Ward turned up so I had a quick chat and we also bumped into the Cheshire guys from way back in the 90's again.
Several interesting Stonechats look like being an attraction for New Year-will make a change from the usual Norfolk run.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Sea Ducks and Shorties

Colin and I had a rare day out birding on Saturday. While the Masked Wagtail in Wales was tempting, the thought of ten hours on the road was not, so we did the usual thing and headed off to Norfolk.
 Over the last few weeks, the sea between Holme and Brancaster has been very good for wildfowl, with (for the southern North Sea) very large numbers of Long Tailed Ducks, among a number of species, and with divers and grebes on offer Titchwell was the destination.
 The car park was pretty quiet for a change, with only the inevitable Robin turning up hoping for a bit of a sandwich, and a few tits Chaffinches and pigeons. W e missed a Merlin on the grazing meadows by a few minutes which was rather annoying. It was seen flying into the nearby bushes but never reappeared. We stopped off briefly to see the Water Pipit on the drain Thornham pool and then went straight to the sea. joining a rather large crowd of locals and visitors.
 Something like 40 Long Tailed Ducks were feeding close in, often just off the breakers, the Common Scoter flocks were also very close with a good 15 Velvets (also a higher than usual number). The small number of Eiders were remarkably the first we had seen here for over a year, and the four Scaup were a nice bonus as well.
 Divers were tending to keep a long way off with maybe a dozen seen over the course of 90 minutes. Red Throated were frequently seen, one Black Throated flew through fairly closely and at least two probable Great Northerns were also seen. An unusual bird was the Shag that flew west-not a regular off this part of the coast.
 Apparently there was a Red Necked Grebe sitting on the sea, though few saw it, and unfortunately the Slavonian Grebe seen yesterday had gone. There were a few Gannets of course, and one or two Kittiwakes were following the two trawlers among the more regular gull species.
 We eventually made our way back to the car picking up a variety of waders and wildfowl, had another look at the Water Pipit and spent a bit of time in the woods trying to find and failing, Siskin and Redpolls. One Brambling was on the feeders though.

 After lunch we went to Burwell Fen, having got directions to a small car park south of Reach Lode. This enabled us to cross over onto the fen using the footbridge and we could walk north to where most of the other birders were congregating. One Short Eared Owl was hunting over the field to our east, often perched up in a Hawthorn, and over the course of an hour or so we saw maybe four more birds. Some were hunting a way off up towards Burwell Lode but two approached quite closely at times and proved to be very entertaining.

 The above sequence is the best of the bunch when one of them suddenly popped up from a drain and unexpectedly flew past at pretty close range.
Unfortunately apart from a pair of Kestrels there were no other raptors or owls showing, and rather unusually we never saw any deer either.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Cold and Sunny

 I haven't done any birding or photography in the last few weeks. Its the typical end of the year slow down, the clocks have changed, the weather has gone downhill, enthusiasm has run out  and the usual assortment of illnesses have been circulating around work and inevitably Ive had the one off cold cough and sore throat best described as Man Flu.
 However, talking to Colin, I fully expected to have a trip out this weekend. Not a great deal happening so it would have been the default visit to Titchwell and or nearby sites where we would at least have a decent day out. Unfortunately it never happened, but I did get out on Saturday.
 As I didn't need to get Mum out shopping yesterday, I planned to get out in the morning. There were a couple of possibilities. Rye Meads has a wintering Water Pipit plus a few other interesting birds, but   I got the impression that there was an event on. Tyttenhanger has two rather mobile Great White Egrets but as their would be a reasonable chance of seeing one in Norfolk, and as its not a place I enjoy visiting I ended up inevitably at Amwell.
 It was actually touch and go really. Freezing fog in Stevenage did not bode well, but by the time I reached Ware, the Sun was out and there were clear blue skies. It was rather cold though and never really improved over the course of the morning.
 I was a bit surprised that no-one else was present, though eventually Alan Meadows and Ade appeared. Since my last visit the trust has done a bit of work around the main lake. The gravel island has been cleared of vegetation, and apparently a pit has been enlarged, the spoil creating a smaller island near the heronry. There was also supposed to have been a lot of work clearing the saplings from the reed beds but there seemed to be little evidence of that.
 Birds were pretty much standard for the time of year-decent numbers of Pochard, Tufties and Gadwall, around 20 Wigeon and at least one pair of Goldeneye. Gull numbers were fluctuating all morning, with most being Black Headed and Common. A few larger gulls-Herring and Lesser Black Backs came and went. An attempt to turn one into Yellow Legged nearly succeeded but the light was poor and it flew off into the sun as we watched it. Inevitably the late evening gull roost reported Caspian, Yellow Legged and Med.
 We walked down to Hollycross to see if the Red Crested Pochard was still around-it wasn't and as Phil had not put the feeders up we didn't bother with the meadow. On the way back a stop off at the Water Vole pool produced a very brief view of the Bittern as it crossed on of the bays cut in the reeds. A tit flock flew through but didn't have anything unusual in it, but earlier I had heard two calling Chiffchaffs along the tow path.
 With the exception of two Sparrowhawks (the female bird again successful in it's Snipe hunt) there were no birds of prey taking advantage of the sunshine. I did see two Red Kites on my way back, one going over the house as I put the car away.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Cliff Swallow at Minsemere

Off to Minsmere this morning. News broke late yesterday afternoon about at Cliff Swallow over the old car park and it was going to be a very popular bird despite a couple of records earlier in the year. News of an Eyebrowed up in Northumberland came on a bit later and it was hoped that this would help to keep numbers down. Unfortunately those that chose to go for the Thrush made the wrong choice.
I got over to Colin's around 7am and we arrived at Minsemere around 90 minutes later, and probably timed it just right as a lot of cars were leaving so there were a few spaces in the car park. Unfortunately the bird had gone as well.
We were heading to the North Bank when Lee Evans said that the Swallows were over the Island Mere so we followed him, along with Dave Holman  up the road to the high spot by the Springwatch building but unfortunately we were too late as the birds were last seen heading to either the Sluice or Sizewell, so we returned to the North Bank. Visibility had been rather poor with some drizzle and it was a bit cold but things did improve during the morning.
After about 15 minutes hanging around the Bank I and several others picked up some hirundines heading our way and the first one I got the bins onto was the Cliff Swallow, looking rather like a greyish House Martin with a red brown rump. It then spent a fair amount of time with the Swallows feeding at some distance over the field north of the old car park Sand Martin cliff and over the Dulwich Coast Guards building but was lost to view.
Colin and I decided to have a wander around the reserve for a while. The scrape was a bit dull-lots of Teal Gadwall Mallard and Shoveller, with a few Godwits and Dunlin. Five Bewicks Swans flew off as we got to the East Hide but were later seen on the levels and appeared to fly back. One or two Little Egrets were noted-someone had reported a Great White earlier I don't think it was seen by anyone else. Up to five Marsh Harriers were around as well-the only raptor seen on the reserve.
Sea watching was a bit pointless with the unfavourable winds with a few distant Gannets, one Common Scoter and a few loafing gulls around some fishing boats. A very nice bonus was the Purple Sandpiper on the Sluice groin.

Returning through the woods a small flock of tits included a calling but never seen Marsh Tit and a couple of Treecreepers added interest. By this time we had heard that the Swallows were back over the filed so we joined the now very large crowd, and since it was now a bit brighter, settled down to enjoy some superb views of the Cliff Swallow feeding, often at close range.
At one point I had it in the scope perched in one of the small Hawthorns, and it could sometimes be followed in the scope while it was in the air. Getting it in the camera was a bit more of a challenge and my best images were obtained when it was more or less overhead, so lots of underside shots. When it was flying low, it seemed to keep it's distance and the few side/upper-side shots I got were rather poor. Still, it was nice to get such good views of a bird I never really expected to be able to see (rather like last years Crag Martin) in the UK.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Autumn Colour

I didn't go birding this weekend. Usual reaction to last weekends flu jab and feeling tired, achy and bunged up at times. Started the day I went back to work after 11 days off so I blame work as well.
However I planned on going out locally today to capture the autumn colours. I was hoping the early morning fog would lift and that I would get glorious sunlit trees and hedges overlooking a mist filled Beane valley. Unfortunately it stayed murky all day with very limited visibility at times so it was a case of looking a bit closer at the leaves and berries.
Bird wise it was very quiet, hardly a sound at times, with two exceptions. Around the ford, I found a large flock of birds feeding in the newly sown field. Amazed to count 23 Pied Wagtails, along with 6 Meadow Pipits, around 30 Starlings, and maybe ten each of Chaffinch and Yellowhammer.
Further up the river, around the model flying club and paddocks, the usual winter thrush flock had arrived. Perhaps 30 Fieldfare and maybe 50 Redwings, but hard to count as they were very mobile. Several Blackbirds and Song Thrushes as well as a couple of Mistle Thrush. Also more Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and 150 Starling in the fields.