Monday, 27 April 2009


Yesterday we spent a large portion of the day visiting a couple of sites with some interesting scarce migrants, and then decided to have a look round one or two places that were on the way home and see what could be found.
Willington gravel pits in Derbyshire has always featured in the rare bird reports as it seem to be one of those places that attracts migrants. Each year, one or two Whiskered Terns appear as spring overshoots so it was not too surprising that one would turn up here. The finders must have had a shock on Friday when they found one, and then realised that there were another ten with it, by far the largest flock seen in the UK.
Unfortunately, by Sunday there were 'only' eight present and by mid day they had dispersed to various other sites in the Midlands. Luckily we got there early in the day and had  superb views as they flew round the pit, perching on the posts from time to time. At one point they flew off to a hidden pit, only to reappear just above head hight. Prior to this, I had only seen three Whiskered Terns in the UK since my first in 1994.
After spending some time failing to see a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, we departed and moved on to a small reserve at Cossington not that far from Leicester. This complex of grazing marsh and pools was host to a Pectoral Sandpiper, an American wader that is frequently encountered in autumn. Spring birds are not as common, and this bird, which I suspect is a male was very approachable enabling me to get some very good images of a plumage that I have only seen once or twice before.
The latter half of the day seemed to fizzle out a bit, as there few reports coming. We tried to find a male Ring Ouzel near Stilton, to no avail (luckily one had been present in Stevenage earlier in the week) and then popped into Graffham Water to tick off a female Scaup hat has been present for some time.
Finally I paid my first visit to the RSPB headquarters at Sandy for something like fifteen years. The place has changed a bit, with vast areas of heath being developed, but the old trails were still worth wandering round since the woods were full of bluebells. Not much bird life though, but we did see the first Small Coppers of the year, Natterjack Toad tadpoles and several Common Newts in one of the heath pools.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Waterford Heath

I have just returned from a pleasant couple of hours at Waterford Heath, a community park converted from an old gravel pit a few miles south of Stevenage.
While it attracts a range of common birds it has become popular for a variety of butterflies and is on of the best places in Hertfordshire to connect with Grizzled Skipper.
Although it was sunny at times, I was a bit concerned at the wind which at times seemed to be too strong for even the larger butterflies. One Peacock struggling to stay perched seemed to verify that. However, a path on top of one of he banks seemed to offer shelter, and having found a large patch of Wild Strawberry it was simply a case of waiting. Over a period of forty minutes, up to three were found and occasionally settled long enough to get a few images off.
There were also several Orange Tips, none of which cooperated, my first Speckled Wood of the year and a couple of Brimstones.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


Saturday, 18 April 2009

Nightingales and Sparrows

Spent the morning walking around Little Paxton Nature Reserve, a series of old gravel pits that have become one of the places to hear and usually see Nightingale.
There were at least a dozen birds singing and I managed to glimpse a few of them, but getting photos were a different story. One spot where I have had success in he past had been staked out by the well known photographer Nigel Blake and there were a number of others with him. Unfortunately it did not look as if the bird would perform as it stayed in dense cover. 
I carried on and heard my first Cuckoo of the year.
In the early afternoon I payed a visit to the RSPB reserve at Welches Dam on the Ouse Washes. In the winter it is a prime site for wildfowl, but in spring and summer, the breeding and passage birds tend to be rather distant. There were small parties of Icelandic Black tailed Godwits, small numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Pintail still, plus two distant drake Garganey. 
Much easier to see and photograph were the colony of Tree Sparrows by the reserve centre.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Sunshine at Last

A couple of days ago, news broke of a White Throated Sparrow at an Iron Age Fort at Old Winchester Hill. Apparently it had been present since early November. With not much else happening bird wise it seemed like a good opportunity to see it, and hope to pick up a few migrants on the south coast.
We left a dull and gloomy Stevenage,and started to see indications of sunshine as we got to Hampshire.
The Sparrow has been frequenting the car park to the hill fort, and was getting rather busy as we arrived. Luckily the Sparrow showed quite well in some honeysuckle quite quickly. Getting photos were rather more difficult though, as there was limited viewing in the scrubby woodland, and the bird did not stay still. I managed a few decent images with the 500mm lens.
Pagham Harbour is a place I have not visited for some years now, and I had hoped to find a few migrants, such as Yellow Wagtail, or perhaps a few waders. Turned out to be very quiet, with little wind to bring things in.
We ended up on the Surrey Heaths at Frensham Little Pond, though with it being a holiday, it was very busy. One Dartford Warbler was seen a long way off, and there were a few snatches of Woodlark song, but we got very good views of a very active male Redstart singing in some trees. 

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Dreary Easter

So far, the Easter holiday has been dull and damp, not exactly the conditions I like for photography. Also, there has not been much in the way of bird reports to justify traveling any distance, so I have stayed local
Yesterday I spent the entire day in the upper Lea valley, starting with a visit to RSPB Rye Marsh. As I arrived, the volunteer warden Christine was watching two Cuckoos fly away, but I never got on to them. The main scrape in front of Draper Hide had a lot of the commoner duck, including several pairs of Teal, and I am wondering if some will over summer in the valley. I also saw my first Green Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover of the year. Plenty of warblers in now, with singing Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers and a lot of Sedge Warbler.
The afternoon was spent at Amwell, where only one of the regulars was present (the others off twitching a White Throated Sparrow in Winchester). My first Common Tern was showing well, and for once there were large flocks of hirundines present. There have been up to eight Redshank, but we only saw four of them, there were also the pair of Ringed Plover and a single little Ringed. A few Reed Warblers were singing alongside the Sedge Warblers, and a single Whitethroat was present.

Monday, 6 April 2009

More Minsmere Images

Couple of extra images from Saturday's Minsmere visit.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Minsmere and the Brecks

Yesterday Colin and I spent the day in Suffolk, starting off at Minsmere for several hours and re-visiting some of the Breckland sites we had been to last month.
Minsmere really started off well, with a Bittern booming as soon as we got out of the car-at least two appeared to be calling from the vast reed  beds. Things got better moments later in the woods as I was distracted by a high pitched song and found a superb Firecrest. Associating with it were a pair of Marsh tit and several Treecreepers.
On the way down to the sluice, we stopped off at the west hide to scan for gull,s, waders etc. A first winter Glaucous Gull had been present for a long time, and had been seen earlier in the morning, but we could not find it. I did locate what I think was a very good candidate fro a Caspian Gull, and that seemed to be the consensus in the hide.
A long walk up the public footpath along the southern levels produced a large flock of feral Barnacle Geese, as well as our first Willow warbler and Greenshank of the year,a and a very nice Spotted Redshank moulting into breeding plumage. The Spoonbill we were looking for was eventually found from the sluice bushes but was very distant.
Our next stop was rather brief, at Cavenham Heath where a Great Grey Shrike was lingering. It did not take long to show on a distant fence. 
Into Thetford Forest itself, we first heard a calling Golden Pheasant, and got  a few rather brief views of Goshawk. I saw my first butterflies here today-several Brimstone, a Green Veined White and a Peacock.  A calling Buzzard in a stand of pines proved rather puzzling when it flew off-a rather pale bird, very lightly marked underneath and with a rufous tail. The suspicion is of a Red Tailed Hawk escapee/feral bird.
Despite the conditions, we failed again to hear or see any Woodlark, and we also failed to see any Hawfinch at our final destination of Lyndford Arboretum. With the trees coming into bud, we will have to wait until the end of the year to search here again.

Today, my regular visit to Amwell failed to live up to the expectations generated by the lovely spring weather.
There were up to five Buzzard in the air, five Redshank and a pair of Ringed Plover. Plenty of Chiffchaff singing, along with a one Blackcap and two or three Willow Warbler.
Another new butterfly for the year were two Commas.