Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

Did a bit of last minute shopping in town today. Rather dicey underfoot as pavements and car parks are just sheets of ice though it is starting to thaw.
Heard a few Redwings go west over the Stevenage leisure park and a pair of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the ice edge. Not a lot else here, even the feral pigeons and crows have all but gone.
Driving home via Chells Manor, I passed the Emperors Head pub and a flock of about twenty birds flew south. Probably Starlings, but this area has been good for Waxwings in recent years. Have not heard of any sightings this winter so far.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Winter Scenes

A few more wintery scenes.

Friday, 18 December 2009


Last night we had a big fall of snow, similar to what we got in February. As a result, most of the town seems to have ground to a halt. Luckily I had the day off and could for once enjoy what is these days a pretty rare event.
Having cleared about four inches of the stuff off the feeders, disturbing the waiting Robin, I spent some time waiting to see what would arrive. Seven House Sparrows, two Starlings, two Blue Tits and a Dunnock came down over the next hour-pretty normal but I did get two Great Tits which are not at all frequent. One of them sat for a while on a fence post and proceeded to bathe in the snow, something I have not noticed before.
At 0930 I went for a walk out to the countryside east of Stevenage. Most of the time, the snow was around four inches deep, but in a few places there were drifts waist deep. Birds were of course rather infrequent. A few Skylarks could be heard moving west, and two Lapwing were a surprise. More expected were thrushes and tits. I found a large flock of Long Tailed Tits which also contained a few Blue and Great Tits. There were several small flocks of Fieldfare, and every now and again I encountered Redwings, Blackbirds and the occasional Mistle Thrush. A single Kestrel was the only bird of prey.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Another quiet one

With the iffy weather and a lack of exciting new stuff to go and photograph we decided to save a bit of petrol money and have another quiet weekend.
So yesterday morning I went down to Amwell for the usual social gathering and hopefully a few decent birds. It was a nice sunny start, though it gradually got colder and by mid day the sun was starting to go as well. The water is a lot higher than when I was last here-a combination of the higher sluice gate and recent heavy rain. As a result, there is not much left of the islands for loafing wildfowl and waders. The reeds have been cut in places leaving long channels which are now starting to get a bit wet and this has produced feeding opportunities for waders and smaller birds.
There were a lot of early thrush movements-mainly Fieldfare with a smaller amount of Redwing, but the first decent bird was a Chiffchaff seen in one of the willows. Some of us then went down to Hollycross Lake to see the Red Crested Pochard-only the one this time, but stopped off on the way at a clump of birches first. Did not take long for a couple of Redpolls to appear, along with a Siskin. The latter is still a regular winter sight, but the days of big Redpoll flocks in the Lea Valley are a thing of the past. We also enjoyed prolonged views of one of the resident Cetti's Warblers and a brief Redwing in the bushes.
Back at the viewpoint, gull numbers were building, but nothing unusual was picked up, a few Snipe were seen-no Jacks yet and in one of the reed-bed cuts a Water Rail fed along with a number of Reed Buntings.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Garden Survey

Have had a couple of days off with a stomach bug, so I had plenty of time to watch the garden for the NOA survey.
Unfortunately visitor numbers remain low-this weeks maximum totals:-
Wood Pigeon 1
Collared Dove 2
Dunnock 2
Robin 1
Blackbird 2
Blue Tit 1
Magpie 1
House Sparrow 8
Goldfinch 2
The Magpie is interesting. I sometimes see one at the bottom of the garden on garage roofs, and they sometimes sit on the house eaves and gutters, but this one (today) is the first I've ever seen come down to the feeders.
Only other observation of note was a fly over Grey Heron.
No Frigate Birds or Black Bellied Storm Petrels yet.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Staying In

The Pacific Diver on the Hayle in Cornwall was a bit tempting, but in view of the weather in the West Country, we decided not to go down yesterday. Good thing too as I was not feeling at all well all day.
Today I decided not to go out. The Norfolk Ornithological Association starts it's Winter Garden Bird Survey today so I thought I'd get off to a good start. Three Sparrows, a Wood Pigeon, and single Blue Tit Robin and Dunnock. The flocks of finches and Sparrows I have been getting have not been seen today.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Amwell Again

News of a putative 'meena' Oriental Turtle Dove at Collieston near Aberdeen yesterday lunch time was a bit of a worry since neither Colin or I were really up for it, since it is about nine hours each way. Possible for a Friday night/Saturday return if we were prepared for it, but not on the spur of the moment trip up and return on Sunday.
Luckily it turned out to be a very late Turtle Dove.
With nothing much to justify an expensive trip, I spent the morning at Amwell. Turned out to be a nice sunny day again, which was a bonus after yesterday's rain and gales. At least the pond is full up now.
There were at least four Egyptian Geese present, though by the time I arrived, only two remained, and they flew off after an hour or so. Snipe numbers building up now, or at least more visible now the water level is increasing. About seven could be seen at times from the watch-point. The female type Stonechat was seen again. I went down to the Water Vole view point just in case the Bittern was showing and possibly also to pick up Redpolls and Siskins that have been seen here. Had the usual calling Cetti's Warbler, and a nice Marsh Tit too. I went off to Hollycross and though I failed to see the Red Crested Pochards, I did get very good views of the Marsh Tit, a pair of Bullfinch, and my first decent flock of Fieldfare of the autumn.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

November update

Have not had a chance to do much birding recently-last weekend was a non starter thanks to a chest infection. About the only thing of note was a late Red Admiral in the garden on the 2nd.
Yesterday I decided to get some fresh air and went down to Amwell. It was one of those lovely sunny late autumnal days that made it a great morning just to be out.
The birding was fairly standard-the usual mix of duck, geese and gulls loafing around. The Pintail were not present, though they had been seen earlier in the week. Two Snipe on the main island were the only waders apart from the inevitable flocks of Lapwing. The thermals eventually got going and several Sparrowhawks, Kestrel and Buzzard took to the air. At one point, all the Lapwing and gulls went up, in a manner suggesting a Peregrine, but we never managed to spot it, and its doubtful if the female Sparrowhawk nearby would have provoked such a reaction.
One female Stonechat was present. So far it seems that there are none wintering at Amwell, but presumably one or two moving around the Lea Valley are visiting from time to time.
I went down to Hollycross with Phil Ball and talked about his holiday to Cape Verde-not the best trip with a broken ankle, but he had a pretty good time. We saw the three female Red Crested Pochard, and he pointed out the phenomenal amount of Plums/gages of varying colours remaining in the trees. A lot of the trees and bushes have lost their leaves now, but in places the colour is still very good.
I was wondering about the lack of Bittern sightings recently, but last night heard that Bill Last had seen one in the afternoon, so it looks like one has finally turned up for the winter.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Eastern Crowned Warbler Mega

Just my luck. I go back to work after my autumn break, and within 48 hours, the news broke of the Eastern Crowned Warbler at South Shields. The previous Western Palearctic records have never stayed more than a day, so it was fingers crossed for the weekend.
The initial plan was to go with Colin and a friend from Amwell Jan Hein. Unfortunately, being Dutch, the lure of a Long Toed Stint in the Netherlands was too much for him.
We arrived after a pretty good run at 1000, to find several hundred in and around the quarry. The wind was a bit gusty, but luckily the heavy rain held off. I had cracking scope views and then spent the next hour attempting to get decent images (most of which seem to be blurred sycamore leaves, sometimes with a small green bird partly hidden). On a couple of occasions it posed quite well, but the low light meant I was shooting at iso 800, and the results even cleaned up show some noise.

We eventually left and headed south to Middlesborough. Just south of the new RSPB reserve at Saltholme, a pool held a very nice drake Blue Winged Teal, and the grass helped to hide a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper. Neither were close enough to photograph.
We headed further south and over the North York Moors, hitting low cloud and rain and by the time we arrived at Bempton Cliffs, it had become very heavy. Despite this, we were able to get very good views-stunningly close at times of the Red Flanked Bluetail. The camera got soaked, and I could barely see through the viewfinder to focus, but the results were much better than I could have hoped for.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Autumn Colour

Not much happening in the birding world, at least nothing to justify a long trip, so I thought I'd wander along the river Beane and see if there was any autumnal colour.
Revisited the presumed Sulphur Polyphore on the remains of the Willow. Its starting to fade a bit now.
Locally, a lot of the colour comes from Spindle bushes.
And there is always the roses.

Apart from Dogwood and the Spindle, few trees and shrubs seem to be changing. Most remain greenish, or a pale yellow green, despite a few recent cold nights.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Yesterday was another day that promised much. The strong northerly winds and overnight showers suggested that Norfolk would be a good idea again.
We started the day at Horsey Gap where a Pied Wheatear had been present for a couple of days. Getting out of the car we discovered how strong the winds really were-I should have taken by thick fleece with me. Unfortunately we met some of the birders that had been present the previous evening, and the Wheatear was being continually harassed at very close range, and it had in fact flown off. A Northern Wheatear had been seen earlier in the morning further down the track, and there was a hope that the Pied had joined it. The habitat was ideal, but there were no birds at all, apart from several photogenic Stonechats.
We eventually left and headed north, scanning the fields nearby in the hope of locating the resident Cranes, but presumably they were sheltering from the winds in the reed beds. A quick scan of the sea at Walcott suggested that conditions would be good for a sea watch and so we ended up at Sherringham.
The hardy locals had been present since first light and had racked up impressive totals of skuas, shearwaters and gulls. Over a period of three hours we managed to see all four species of Skua-Bonxies were abundant, often in flocks of up to six, plus a few Arctic and single juvenile Pomarine and Long Tailed. Manx Shearwaters were constant, along with a very close Balearic and distant Sooty, and huge numbers of Gannets, Little Gulls, Kittiwake and auks (Guillemot and Razorbill with a few Puffin plus a Little Auk that I missed) were streaming east. A few late Arctic and Sandwich terns lingered offshore.We missed the Leaches Petrel by arriving too late, and despite hopes, another never appeared.
As we were driving home, the pagers had peculiar 'possible' reports of a Swainsons Thrush at Beeston, and a Veery at Sherringham. Too cold and tired we carried on home.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


Spent the morning at Amwell.
The two Pintail are still around, and my first Goldeneye of the autumn was present. Two female Red Crested Pochard on Hollycross Lake were a bonus.
At least three Grey Wagtails flying around, a few Larks going over but little else moving. At least four Buzzards, three Sparrowhawk, one Red Kite and one Kestrel took advantage of the thermals.
The usual assortment of loafing gulls did not have anything unusual among them.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Brown Shrike

While we were returning from Norfolk, news came on that the Red Backed Shrike at Staines Moor had been re-identified as Brown Shrike. Too late for Monday though.
Colin was having a boiler serviced so I went down on my own. Luckily, even with the A1 and M25 roadworks it only took an hour-I held back until the rush hour had died down. Running into William Bishop, and several guys from the fields of West Runton, I learnt that it had been very misty earlier and it had only really cleared by the time I arrived at 1000. The Shrike posed very well for quite a while but gradually became more elusive through the morning. Occasionally it would sit for a while attracting the attention of Reed Buntings and Stonechats. Phil Ball arrived (despite his broken ankle) with Bill Last, and later on most of the Hertfordshire luminaries could be spotted while scanning the crowd.
After a while, I went for a wander hoping to pick up a Great Grey Shrike that had been found, but it had flown over the M25 to Wraysbury. While looking, I also heard rumours of a Red Backed Shrike, but only a few had apparently seen it.
I finally left at 1230 having had a very enjoyable twitch, and without the usual stress of a long drive.

Monday in Norfolk

The weather looked promising for a trip to Norfolk yesterday, and with a fair amount of scarce migrants around, plus the chance of sea watching as well it was too good to miss.
While waiting for Colin, i had a quick look at Venus, Mars and Saturn in the morning twilight. At 50x in the Leica, you could make out the gibbous disks of Venus and Mars, and the narrow ring system of Saturn looked very nice despite the low elevation.
We decided to start at Titchwell, and called in at Chosely on the way. Though we had encountered several flocks of Starling, the juvenile Rose Coloured was not around. Titchwell is gradually resembling a building site. We had hoped to visit Fen Hide and photograph the Jack Snipe, but it was closed so they could install new windows for trialling. The main lagoon was rather empty, with a small flock of gulls and duck. Waders amounted to a couple of Avocet, a flock of Dunlin, a few Ruff and Grey Plover, plus one or two Redshank.
Despite the northerly wind, sea watching was a bit quiet. The main bird seemed to be Kittiwake, thought here were a few Gannet and Manx Shearwater too, plus a couple of Bonxies. No sea Duck apart from a couple of Mergansers.
We ended up spending most of the afternoon at West Runton, tramping over the stubble fields. Sea watching was productive, and several Scoter flocks included three nice drake Velvet. The Short Toed Lark was seen frequently, always in flight, and the Richard's Pipit was seen occasionally in flight, coming quite close at times. I failed to locate the Lapland Bunting, which posed for Colin, and the Barred Warbler in the bushes by the buildings never really showed. All I saw was a large grey warbler being mobbed by Blackbird.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

October Holiday

Stared my main October holiday on Friday, and had a full day birding yesterday.
After an early morning flu jab, I went down to Amwell. Autumn migration seems to have kicked in with Skylark and thrushes flying around. Duck numbers are slowly building up, and at least two Pintail were present though they spent most of the time asleep. Several Buzzards took advantage of the thermals. Around mid-day news came on about the Azorean Yellow Legged Gull at Didcot, and after a quick phone call to Colin we arranged to get there early afternoon.
Unfortunately it had not been seen for a good hour prior to our arrival, and was not seen up til dusk. We did have a couple of Caspian Gulls-adult and first winter, and everywhere we looked we could see Red Kites. I did try to get a few images (hand held manual focus 500mm lens with a 2x converter!) but none were sharp. The Kestrel came out a bit better.
Hope to go back and try for the gull later in the week, hopefully when the tip is open, a routine will be established.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Bracket Fungi

Another quiet weekend, with very little happening to justify a birding trip. Had hoped that the strong westerlies would bring something in to the south west, but it all seems to be happening in northern Scotland still.
Went for a stroll along the river Beane, intending to get some autumnal colours, but so far there has been little change. I have seen Spindle and Dog Wood with some very nice colours, but the ones today had a long way to go.
I did encounter a nice bracket fungus on a log, and a Willow that had lost it's top in spring had several patches of what could be Sulpher Polyphore.
Not much bird movement, a few Skylarks and Meadow Pipit over. Several Buzzards and Sparrowhawks were enjoying the thermals and a Tawny Owl called from one of the small woods.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Autumn Migration

Despite the fine, sunny, still weather a few birds are appearing locally.
Yesterday I called in after work to the old landfill site at Norton Green. A few chats had been seen over the previous few days, and one Whinchat remained for me.
Little else of note, though my first ever Stevenage Yellow Legged Gull flying over was a bit of a surprise.
Today a rather warm walk along the river Beane (whats left of it) proved to be a good bet when I found a Redstart in the hedge at Aston End.
Apart from that and the local Little Owl, and small flocks of flyover Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Yellowhammer there was not much happening.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Quiet day out in Norfolk

The weather forecast for Sunday looked reasonable, in that we were supposed to get a belt of rain or showers coming up from the continent overnight, to East Anglia with clear conditions to the north and east. This led to a few pundits suggesting that the east coast could have a few migrants arriving.
As there was a fair bit at Spurn and Gib Point already, it looked to me that the best bet was north west Norfolk as this would allow us to head further north if needed, or stay on the Norfolk coast. High tide at Snettisham at 0700 and a Wryneck still present on Saturday night was all we needed for a first stop.
The tide was starting to drop by the time we arrived, but there were plenty of waders in the pit-virtually all Oystercatcher as well as a surprisingly large number of Egyptian Geese. On the rapidly appearing mud of the Wash, many thousands of birds were feeding. Mainly Sanderling, Dunlin, Redshank and Shelduck, but small numbers of Plover, Godwits and Curlew too. There were also a few Pintail on the sea. Sadly no sign of the Wryneck, and there were few other migrants in the bushes apart from the odd Chiffchaff.
Undaunted we set off for Holme, and scoured the Paddocks. By now the sun was out, it was clear, warm and very still. Two calling Redstart and a single Lesser Whitethroat was not much of a fall, and about the only other birds present were Dunnocks. The walkers on the coastal path kept calling out "what a lovely day"as they strode past. Had a look at the scrapes, but the Little Stint had gone and there was nothing close to photograph. The pines were very quiet too, and I called in at the observatory where Jed and Sophie were trying to find ways to pass the time-they had ringed one Garden Warbler by early afternoon.
By two o clock we had given up and went home. Luckily the Beers of the World Warehouse off the A10 was still open so I have a few nice beers to try.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Leica Televid Update

Was going over a few blogs last night, in particular one devoted to digiscoping with Leicas. My old Eagle Eye adaptor (which I never really got on with) was lying around and I couldn't help noticing that it was not too dissimilar in size to the 25-50x zoom. I removed all the internal sleeving and discovered that it was a snug fit.
This prompted me to charge up the battery of my old Coolpix 995 and see what would happen. As the only subject matter to hand this evening was a fence post at the bottom of the garden, I trained the assembly on it and rattled off a few shots. I found that I had to zoom the camera in quite a way to eliminate vignetting, but the results were pretty good considering the slow aperture of the lens (about F4.5) and the iso needing to be set to 400, which because of the age of the sensor results in some noise.
With modern cameras, ie better noise characteristics and image stabilisation, this could be a nice set up for casual long range photography. Shame that few if any seem to have a lens thread these days so the old adaptor cannot be used.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Leica APO Televid HD65 first impressions

As mentioned previously, I was very impressed with the performance of the new Leica scopes at the BIrd Fair, particularly the new wide angle 25-50 zoom eyepiece. After some deliberation, I decided to get the 65mm version, which arrived at the beginning of the month.
Some years back, I had tried out several of the smaller scopes, and one that had impressed was the Swarovski. At the time, this had the 45x eyepiece fitted, which I did not realise when I first looked through-the image was so bright, and the field so large I assumed that a 30x was fitted. This got me thinking that perhaps a smaller telescope would suit me now that I was spending so much time with photography-walking with an 80mm class scope on a tripod with pan and tilt heads can be awkward, with various bits sticking out and bumping into legs and thighs. Add a camera and lens and the weight starts to be an issue too. The first step to weight reduction took place earlier in the year when I removed the Gitzo pan-tilt head and replaced it with a BH-55 ball head and this proved to be very comfortable when walking with the tripod over a shoulder. Used primarily for photography, the ball head has been quite good with a scope, though the handling technique is rather different.
The first test of the scope was late one evening, when I had a quick look at a Blackbird in the Rowan at the bottom of the garden. Strongly backlit, there was a lot of detail present, with the fine rictal feathers around the bill being easy to see. I did note some purple fringing around twigs against the bright grey sky, but most of this was eliminated when I took my glasses off. I would always expect some fringing due to diffraction effects.
The first proper day out at Cley was not ideal, being bright and sunny, so not really testing for any optical device. I did note however that observing from the north hide at mid-day, never a good idea due to the strong backlighting (usually a case of guess the silhouette) was quite good, with feather detail in such things as female Teal being easy to see. In fact I never had a problem at all with any of the birds.
At Amwell, I was able to compare it with the older Leica 82mm scope with the original 20-60x zoom. I found that there was little or no difference in resolution, to be expected as substantially higher magnifications would be required to take full advantage of the aperture. It was noted on a Hobby perched at 250m that detail was more obvious in the 65mm scope suggesting improved micro contrast, and that the image was significantly clearer and brighter at equivalent magnifications. In fact I was able to discern leg colour, claws and the eye of a perched Hobby some 700m away. Everyone also commented on the significantly improved filed of view- 2.5 degrees at 25x and a whopping 1.5 degrees at 50x.
The filed of view proved to be of immense benefit on the sea watch at Titchwell, where perched in the dunes I was able to see the shoreline and a lot of sky at 25x, and even at 50x, the shoreline and horizon was visible. Here I was able to compare with a Kowa 823 and 20-60x zoom, which was limited mainly by it's small field-zooming in to 60x and the approximate one degree field hindered observations. The dull grey light should in theory have been a problem for the smaller scope, but again there was little in it. As with the older Leica comparison, the image remained clearer and brighter in he 65mm Televid.
I did encounter one major problem though. The rubber coating seemed to be very attractive to sand, and this also collected inside the extended lens shield where the raised lip at the front made removal rather difficult. There is also a suggestion that the lens coatings may, like the older scopes be sensitive to salt water. The hand book does suggest using a filter, so this may be something to be wary of.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Glossy Ibis and Sea Watching

Yesterday looked very promising for the North Sea coast as a small frontal system had given a northerly airflow after a period of easterlies. With Red Breasted Flycatcher and Greenish Warbler in Lincolnshire, and an Icterine Warbler in Norfolk, the omens looked good.
We started in the Ouse Washes at Sutton Gault looking for a flock of Glossy Ibis that had been present-part of twenty five that had arrived a week or two back. Unfortunately there was only a single bird on the wash and it flew off shortly after we arrived. We did hear about another pit to the east, but directions and access seemed a bit vague. Following another group, and a tramp through playing fields and an old disused wartime airfield found us looking into a deep pit where the six Ibis were feeding. After about ten minutes they flew off back to the wash-apparently they had been doing this all the time.
Pleased to have seen all six (I had only seen three previously in twenty years) we headed off to Titchwell to see what we could find. Thanks to work on the new sea wall, the reserve was rather empty though a small flock of waders held two Little Stints. The sea turned out to be the place to be. Over a period of ninety minutes we clocked up fifty to a hundred Manx Shearwater, Four Balearic and one Sooty Shearwater, one juvenile Sabines Gull along with a lot of Kittiwake, many terns, several Great and one Arctic Skua and an untold number of Gannets. Unfortunately we did not see any petrels or Pomarine Skuas which were reported from nearby Holme.
With our gear and hair liberally sprinkled with sand, we decided to visit Holme and see what could be found in the bushes. The answer turned out to be nothing-either the wind was keeping migrants down or there weren't any.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Colin Gets an Ortolan

On Saturday, we headed to Cley as an Ortolan had been present on Friday-this is a bird that Colin has tried to see for many years without success. We arrived fairly early and could see a large crowd on the East Bank, so headed off to join the queue. The bird did not show for some time, and I was distracted by the pings of the Bearded Tits. The Ortolan did eventually show-a long way off and by peering over shoulders we could see it. Then a couple barged through and despite protestations walked past and flushed the bird. Luckily it returned, landed a bit closer and I was able to get a poor record shot.
We returned to Cley where the scrapes held a small flock of Curlew Sandpipers among the Godwits and Shanks, and six of the Spoonbills doing what they do best-ie sleeping.
Sea watching was not all that good by the time we got to the beach, I saw a few Gannets, terns and a single Arctic Skua. A few Wheatears were along the fences.
There was little of note from the north hide, though a pair of Swallows still had young in the nest bu the door.

Monday, 31 August 2009

American Black Tern

The Bank Holiday started off for me on Friday when I had to take the car in for a service. The weather was very windy-strong westerlies and showery. I wandered around Letchworth, including Norton Common but did not see much of note thanks to the weather.
Saturday turned out to be a bit warmer and brighter, and the morning at Amwell with the regular crowd was quite enjoyable. We did not see a great deal-several Green and Common Sandpipers and up to six Hobby. I was hoping for something a bit rarer as Bill Last and Barry Reed were in Ireland at the Bridges of Ross sea watching so something to grip them off would have been nice. We did however spend a lot of time discussing the American Black tern that had turned up at Farmoor reservoir near Oxford, undoubtedly brought over by the winds. While not a species according to most authorities it is very rare in the UK and worth seeing.
The weather on Sunday was pretty dire, strong winds at times, very overcast and showers. Not the best of conditions on the central causeway at Farmoor. The marsh terns were a long way off but easily picked up and were seen flying and perched. The most obvious was the (rare) juvenile White Winged Black Tern being very pale. Almost as distinctive, the (very rare) American Black Tern could be picked up because it was a very dark bird and the dusky flanks showed well in flight. The (common) juvenile Black Tern by comparison was best described as the one in between.
We were able to get a bit closer where I was able to get a few decent images with the 500mm lens and a 2x converter. These images are probably the first to show all three terns in flight together.
On the way back to the car I was able to get very good images of a very confiding Dunlin and distant shots of one of many Yellow Wagtails around the buildings.
The erst of the day was a bit of a let down. We were heading to Tring for an Osprey which flew off before we got there so headed home via the Pegsdon Hills. A stroll around Telegraph and Deacon Hill failed to produce any migrants, apart from a few Meadow and Tree Pipits. No doubt the strong winds were to blame.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Willow Emeralds

After a couple of weeks since their discovery, we decided to visit Suffolk yesterday to see some of the newly colonised Willow Emeralds at Staverton Lake. Several other sites were noted down as back ups but this proved unnecessary.
We arrived around 0930, and although sunny there was a strong breeze. However it was not long before several were found around the pump house pool, including a few tenerals. A small group spent quite a bit of time with these individuals before checking out other stretches of water. Along one of the paths, we gradually checked some of the most likely spots and found several more, before bumping into another group watching a large number, including a few males. Photography was difficult as most of the individuals remained perched in the trees, often high up where the wind was causing problems, and the low light conditions in the shade did not help. I reckon we saw a minimum of 30 individuals.
I had obtained a book on Grasshoppers at the bird fair, along with a pocket net, and both proved useful when I ` that there were many Roesel's Bush Crickets singing. Tracking them down on the grass and brambles was very hard until I saw one sitting on my camera bag. This was quickly netted and posed very well for us.
There were many more insects-Colin saw a green bush cricket of some kind, and there were many Brown and Migrant Hawkers, Darters and Large and Small red Eyed Damselflies.
When we left, we decided to visit Boyton Marsh which was only a few miles away where a juvenile Montague's harrier had been present for a while. We obtained very distant views of it hunting over the sea wall looking towards Orford Ness, but a long walk to it's location proved fruitless as it was not seen again.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Rutland Bird Fair

Went to the bird fair today-I go every couple of years.
Big mistake-I really like the new Leica scopes with the 25-50X zoom, and of course there is all the nice Nikon camera gear to play with too. Looks like I need a spare £15000 or so.
Back in the real world, I picked up a few nice books that I have been after, but the main reason is to see people that I don't see all that often, see old friends and every now and again do a spot of birding. Lee Evans was looking dapper as usual in pin striped jacket and shades, plugging his new rare bird site guide, and the wild man of Exmoor, Johnny Kingdom in full regalia gave what seemed to be a very popular talk, which over ran somewhat. All the usual birding/wildlife celebs were around though I failed to tick some of them off.
Thanks to the TV programs, the Ospreys were very popular, with the viewing hides overflowing. Bit pointless really, as one of the birds could be seen (and heard) on the nest post from the car park. The other hides overlooking the lagoons were very peaceful by comparison. I failed to find the reported Wood Sandpiper, though there were a lot of Green Sandpipers and Greenshank present. Egyptian Geese seemed to be very abundant, with few Shelduck by comparison. Still a few Terns, and Sand Martins, and there may have been a few good ducks around but I did not fancy sorting through thousands of eclipse Tufties, Gadwall etc.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Spent a few hours at Amwell this morning, Seemed to be very quiet-no Common Terns, duck numbers down, and seemingly few raptors out enjoying the hot air.
We did have a few waders though, four Common Sandpiper, four Green Sandpiper and a Greenshank that stayed until 1030 when it flew off west. There have been a couple of Snipe recently-none seen today, and there were very few small birds either, apart from a lone Willow Warbler practicing it's song.
Overhead, a few Swallows and Sand Martins were moving south, and we had a fly over Yellow Wagtail too. Skywatching paid off, and eventually a couple of Sparrowhawk did appear, along with a single Hobby and three distant Buzzard.
As I was leaving, Jim picked up one of the local Spotted Flycatchers in the orchard, so as it turned out, not a bad couple of hours despite the heat.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Rye Meads

Spent a few hours this morning at the RSPB reserve of Rye Meads.
There were two Garganey present-they had been here for a week or so, along with several Green Sandpiper. Several broods of Little Grebe in front of the Draper hide, including four very young ones hitching a lift from a parent.
Watched the Kingfisher feeding young, and also a Heron preening..
Lots of Migrant Hawkers around too, as well as Brown Hawker.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Five Skippers

Yesterday we decided to repeat our trip to Ballard Down near Swanage, hopefully with much better weather than the last visit. Things did not look promising on the way down, but after we arrived, the Sun came out and it really warmed up.
The first thing we noticed were the Adonis Blues-they were everywhere and seemed to be the most abundant species,, though there were large numbers of Common Blues and Brown Argus around. As usual, plenty of Painted Lady, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, whites and Tortoiseshells could be seen, and there were even a couple of Clouded yellows too. There were even a few Small Blues though hard to see. One thing was missing-Skippers, in particular Lulworth. Try as we might none could be seen.
After about an hour we decided to carry on across the down and then cross the road to the other hills. The local Buzzards were very vocal and rather distracting until Colin suddenly found a Skipper. A bit surprisingly it was a second brood Dingy, that was it as far as butterflies went for some time. Three Raven, a few Linnets and Chiffchaff were all we had until a flyby Wall Brown frustrated me. I also got good views of a femal Bullfinch feeding two young.
After a coffee we returned to Ballard Down and searched the southern area. Luckily I got good views of Wall Brown and then another Skipper-Dingy again. A few minutes later I noticed a dull Skipper on the marjoram but it was disturbed by an Adonis. Another was then picked up and we finally got images of a Lulworth Skipper. A search of the main area of Marjoram failed to find any more (despite what seemed to be ideal condituions) and we started to leave when I noticed a Grayling settle in front of us for a moment. Unfortunately it did not stay for long and having spent three hours here we decided to leave.
Noar Hill near Selbourne is a famous butterfly site and I hoped to see Brown Hairstreak here. We found plenty of Whites and Brimstone, a family of Spotted Flycatcher and a bonus Willow Tit. I bumped into one of the regulars who told me that he had only seen five this year-luckily one was just round the corner in an Ash tree. Half an hour went by and with no sighting we gave up. I did see a small butterfly fly off, maybe this was it. Another bonus was a rather battered Silver Washed Fritillary which brought the butterfly day list up to twenty eight.
We ended up at Box Hill near Dorking, overlooking the (for England) vast vineyards of Denbies. Despite being very busy, rather late in the day and with what seemed to be rather poor habitat, I managed to find a single Silver Spotted Skipper, but it was disturbed by Burnet Moths and I never relocated it. This is supposed to be one of the best sites, with a very large colony of Silver Spotted Skippers, and despite searching the southern slopes no more were found. There were several clumps of Autumn Gentian and Autumn Ladies Tresses, so it was not a total loss.

Saturday, 8 August 2009


Having spent the last week with a flu like bug, I decided to stretch my legs a bit this afternoon and went up to Dead Man's Hill at Sandon near Baldock. While there I met a few other birders, including Mick Illet and Ray Hooper.
Over the course of nearly three hours we were entertained by four Red Kites, up to three juvenile Marsh Harriers, numerous Buzzards, one Hen harrier, several Kestrel and Hobby, and one Sparrowhawk. Unfortunately, the male Montague's Harrier did not show for us, although it was apparently seen while we were there, and the Peregrine was not seen either.
There were a lot of Swallows flying around, as well as several finch/bunting flocks, most of which seemed to consist of Linnet and Yellowhammer. There were also a number of Red Legged Partridge and Pheasant, but no Quail.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Weekend Update

Saturday morning was spent at Amwell. Not much happening-the only out of the ordinary bird was the eclipse drake Red Crested Pochard which flew around for a bit after being disturbed by herons. Several Little Egrets present, but no waders apart from a few Lapwing, and no migrants. The usual selection of late summer butterflies and dragonflies present, with Painted Ladies starting to become abundant.
Sunday had been planned to be a visit to the lakes for some of the northern butterflies, but due to the weather and the fact I was not feeling great, Colin and I had an easy day in East Anglia. We called in at Graffham to see the Black Terns before heading to Roydon Common. Despite the assertion that Black Darters are the commonest species we only managed to see a couple, and could not photograph any. Common Darters were everywhere, and we managed to find a few Ruddies too. Small Coppers and Common Blues were also everywhere, but there were not as many Painted Ladies as I was expecting.
There were a few wader reports from Titchwell, but we decided to call in at Kelling to see the Great Spotted Cuckoo which has been present for a while, but had only been refound on Saturday. After quite a long wait, with the Ladybird swarms and a toad for diversion, the cuckoo eventually showed quite well, but rather distant, even for the 500mm lens and converters.