Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Santon Downham

Got a report on the pager today about the Brambling. It also mentioned Willow Tit being present.
Dont know how regular they are in Thetford Forest these days-there was a discussion a while back suggesting most if not all reports were mis identified Marsh Tit.
Got me thinking though, because there was a 'Marsh Tit' around the feeders in the car park which had a rather buzzy chay chay call and a song which was a bit different to what I remember from my local Marsh Tits (and I have not heard them singing for a few years now). Twenty five years ago, Willows were regular in Stevenage but rapidly declined and I have not heard a singing one for maybe twenty years so am a bit rusty.
I've checked a few sources and compared songs and the bottom line is I should have been paying more attention.
So I've ticked Willow Tit for the year.

Monday, 25 January 2010


Over the last few weeks, there has been a bit of an influx of geese, with small parties scattered over the country. This has resulted in a few unusual species occurring inland, such as the Brent Geese at Amwell a few days ago that most of the regulars failed to get.
Last month I had planned on going to Cantley and Buckenham in the Bure valley east of Norwich as its been many years since my last visit, for the Taiga Bean Geese that winter there, but depart very early, often in January. This did not happen and we had intended to try this weekend. Instead we decided to go to the fens again.
A small party of geese at Eldernell on the Nene Washes included a couple of White Fronts, a few Pink Footed and two Tundra race Beans. Unfortunately, mist all day meant that views were terrible, and in the morning, when we arrived we did not expect to have much success. In the end, all the geese were located, but at some distance and the images I got were to say the least rubbish. A bonus of two Cranes which had gone missing flew in on the far bank about half a mile away and could just be made out in the murk. Apparently two Great White Egrets had been present early on but had flown east.

A few miles to the south, near the RSPB reserve at Welches Dam, a large flock of wild swans contained a single Pink Foot and three Taiga Bean Geese. Despite slightly better conditions I never got any usable images.

At Lyndford Arboretum the Hawfinches proved as elusive as ever and we missed a couple of brief sightings. A flock of 18 Crossbills were nice, as were a huge flock of Siskin and Redpoll.
With time at a premium we decided to finish the day at Santon Downham where a large flock of Brambling have been present for some time. Severeal Bullfinch, tits, Nuthatches and Treecreeper added some variety.

Saturday, 23 January 2010


The usual morning social gathering with a bit of birding now and again. The Boys From Brazil (Barry, Jan and Phil) are back and apparently had a great time. Jan is in the Netherlands twitching Baltimore Oriole (been there for weeks), and Oriental Turtle Dove.
I arrived just after two drake Smew flew off, but at least I did get decent views of one of the Bitterns perched in the reeds. Duck numbers seem to have dropped now that the ice has gone, though we now have two Shelduck. Also one or two Cetti's Warblers have survived the freeze and have started to sing.
At one point something spooked the Lapwing and we were surprised to count twenty five Snipe go up with them. Unfortunately they were all Common, and despite our hopes, no Jacks were with them. Have yet to see any other waders here-there should be one or two Redshank by now.
A walk to Hollycross produced one Red Crested Pochard, though some of us did miss a second Bittern as well as a Kingfisher. On the way back, the picnic area produced more than twenty Siskin with a few Goldfinch. There is supposed to be a Redpoll or two still, but we did not locate it.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Weekend Update

No major trips this weekend, just a few local visits.
Yesterday I spent the morning in the rain at Amwell. Most of the waters are iced up still, but there are a few large open areas of water. Duck numbers seem to be stable and all the usual suspects are present. Goldeneye seem to have increased over the last month, and several males have started to display. There are up to five Smew present, though I could only find the stunning drake and a single redhead. I was only able to find two of the female Red Crested Pochard, and the only other slightly unusual duck was the Shelduck that has been present for a while now.
My main aim was to find one of the Bitterns. As most of the usual spots were iced up I was not hopeful and didn't see any. There were several Water Rails hunting on the ice in front of the reeds. Naturally, when the weather improved in the afternoon, both Bitterns did show.
Today I had a walk around Aston End and along the river Beane. It was lovely when the sun was shining, and it almost felt like spring with the tits Mistle Thrushes and Robins singing. Among a large flock of Coal Tits in one of the plantations I did get to hear one or two Goldcrests.
Out in the countryside it was a bit quiet as the winter thrushes were absent and most of the hedgerows were empty. I did encounter a few small finch flocks-Chaffinh and Greenfinch as well as some Yellowhammer.
The river is in full flood at the moment which makes a change. The usual Buzzards were displaying, and one came down and landed in a river side tree. Of course I did not have my camera with me. I could not find any of the Bullfinches at their regular spots, and the Little Owls were not showing either, probably due to activity in the paddocks. The last bit of the walk was a bit muddy in places, and frozen in others and once the sun went in and the wind picked up it was not as pleasant as it was earlier.
Came home to hear that a putative American Bittern at Marton Mere has not been seen. Saved a bit of cash there.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Meadow Pipit

Got home from work today, and within a few minutes noticed a Meadow Pipit in the Rowan tree. Finally got an unusual bird courtesy of the weather.
I do sometimes see and hear them flying over in spring and autumn, but this is the first in the garden.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

More Garden Birds

More freezing weather and more snow. Apart from doing a bit of essential shopping, have not been out at all.
Still no unusual garden visitors, though the pair of Chaffinch and several Great Tits are not often seen in the garden itself. Up to three Blue Tits, three Blackbirds and nine Sparrows every day, but we seem to be down to one each of Dunnock and Robin.
Yesterday a flock of about thirty Fieldfare flew west, and there are also large movements of Wood and Feral Pigeons. The Black Headed, Common and Lesser Black Back gulls seem to be coping well, though I suspect the small roost on Fairlands Lake is completely frozen.
On a slightly different note, we had our first ever Grey Squirrel on the feeders about a month ago, and now it turns up every day. Despite breeding in the oak the other side of the house, they have only been seen in the gardens on a few occasions (maybe the large number of cats infesting the area put them off).

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Snow Again

Thanks in part to the very dry air at work, I've got a bit of a chest problem, and am at home.
We have had a fair bit of snow again, along with very cold (for Hertfordshire) temperatures. Its not expected to get above -2 celsius in the afternoon according to some forecasts.
Unlike some gardens, I have not had an influx of birds-just the usual quantity of Sparrows, Tits, Blackbirds etc. Did see a Wren early on which is not often seen and there are a lot of Gulls and corvids flying around overhead.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Shrike Dipping

Only just got round to writing about Sundays trip.
The surprise news on New Years Day was the Brown Shrike re-appearing at Staines Moor having gone missing during the cold spell. It showed for a while on Friday and Saturday, so Colin and I decided to go down on the Sunday and hope it would show.
The one major difference to Staines Moor from my last visit (apart from the freezing ground) was the large number of Parakeets in the area. Last time I met very few people who had seen any, as the big roost in the area had gone many years ago, yet on Sunday they were one of the most abundant species around. Unfortunately, the Shrike did not put in an appearance for us, and as I write has not been seen for four days now. We did see several Stonechat, and Fieldfares, Green Woodpeckers and Greenfinches, and one of the wintering Water Pipits flew over.

We eventually called a halt and moved of to Ash Ranges near Guildford which was the home of a wintering Great Grey Shrike. This very bleak area of heath holds a small population of Dartford Warbler, which had been severely knocked back by last winters freeze, but several pairs had been seen by others over the course of the morning, along with Crossbill flocks. After about an hour of searching, I found the Shrike in a small dip, unfortunately Colin was a long way off and did not hear me call. I tried to move closer, but lost it when a dog walker lost control of his dogs, and despite searching for a long time, we never found it again. We never found anything else either.
We ended up at Amwell, where a Bittern had been showing quite well, but I missed it. I did show Colin three Red Crested Pochards, a female Smew and a small flock of Siskin and Redpolls. Large areas of the main lake were iced up, allowing good views of the gull roost as it built up, but nothing unusual was located.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

New Years Day

Having not seen Colin for two months-thanks to weather, ill health and so on, it was nice to be able to get the new year off to a good start with a trip out. As there were no major rarities to go for, we decided on a fairly short trip to the Fens.
We started off at Coveney near Ely, where a Rough Legged Buzzard has been seen intermittently-in fact its believed to be the same one I saw near Royston last winter. Despite searching for some time, with a bitterly cold wind and the occasional snow flurry, we could not find it. Several flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were found in the hedgerows, with the occasional lark and pipit flying over.
Leaving the area, and heading for Pyemoor, we soon encountered herds of Wild Swans. Large numbers of Whoopers, and smaller numbers of Bewick's were feeding in beet fields, and occasionally flying past us. Another flock held a large number of Greylag and Canada Geese too. Nearby, we found small coveys of Grey and Red Legged Partridge and a small flock of Golden Plover.
The Ouse Washes at Pyemoor were largely empty of wildfowl, due to the wind most duck were sheltering in the lee of the west bank a long way off. A small flock of Barnacle Geese were a bit of a surprise. There were few small birds around, apart from the occasional Reed Bunting and we did not see any owls or birds of prey apart from many Kestrels and a single Buzzard.
We stopped of at Welney briefly, but there was little to see on the feeders from the centre and most of the reserve was shut.
We then headed off to Graffham Water.
The first thing we encountered was a Great Northern Diver swimming just offshore. We also found a few Redshank and Dunlin feeding along the muddy edge, but there apart from some Mallard, Gadwall and Goldeneye there was not much else on view so we headed off to the dam.
The Velvet Scoter that had been present for several weeks showed quite well among the grebes and Cormorants but we failed to find any of the other species that had been around like Red Necked Grebe and Common Scoter.