Tuesday, 27 December 2011


Well I spent Christmas and Boxing Day slumped in front of the telly enjoying a few wines and so on so thought I'd better go out today and get some air.
Went to Deadman's hill first and met a couple of guys hoping for one of the Merlins. Although it was fairly warm and the sun was trying to break through, birds were pretty scarce, and largely distant. One or two Kites and Buzzards were on the ground and at least three Kestrel were hoevring. A large flock of Fieldfare were on the eastern ridge and we had fly by Skylark and Linnet on a regular basis.
The Icknield Way at Therfield was much better. Walked down from the village encountering thrushes and larks on a regular basis. A nice female kestrel posed on a bush.

Further down I encountered a birder looking at a grey blob in the hedge-it looked like the Great Grey Shrike and we were joined by a couple of others and watched it for a bit. A distant blob on a hedge was believed to be a Short Eared Owl, so we thought but my photo being only a few pixels in size looked more like a Buzzard which would be more likely perched up like this. 
We moved down the track closer to  the Shrike which was buried deep in the bushes and one of the guys with a scope said it looked more like a ball, so I went down and retrieved the remains of a tennis ball exactly the same shade of grey as a Great Grey Shrike!. Luckily to save further embarrassment all three of the wintering Hen Harriers put on a good show for us, though none really came close enough to my camera.

On the way back to the village we encountered Grey and Red Legged Partridge, Golden Plover and Lapwing, as well as several red Kites, so despite one or two dodgy observations it was not a bad morning.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Great Northern Diver

Went down to Nazeing Meads this morning to search for the 1st winter Great Northern Diver. Followed the instructions, walked down to the bridge scanning the two lakes without success. Five goosander (three drakes)were very nice to see especially so close, and there were hoards of winter thrushes in the area. Near the bridge, a Chiffchaff was calling. After about 40 minutes it was clear that the diver was not present.
Just about to drive off when i saw Alan Reynolds and Graham White further down the track so drove down to them, to be told the diver was north of the marina. Went over with Alan and got pretty good though distant views.
After this I called in at Amwell. The usual crowd present, and the birdlife pretty much as usual. No sign of Smew-it's been a long time since one has failed to appear before Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Tring Ticks

Finished for Christmas yesterday, and decided on trying to get a few more birds on my county list.
Despite my 25 years of birding in Hertfordshire, my list is pretty pathetic, and this is largely due to location. Living in Stevenage, in the north east of the county, I have the Lea Valley within fairly easy reach and this has always been a favorite. However a lot of the really good birds appear in the far west at the Tring reservoirs, which for me has always been a bit of a pain to get too, as it involves going through Luton and Dunstable, or through Hemel, or around the M25-it takes about an hour when there is no traffic. As a result I have missed many good county birds, but I have decided to concentrate a bit more and try and get there more frequently.
Over the last month or so, a juvenile Drake Bellied Brent Goose has been present, and more recently a family of Bewicks Swans has arrived, but due to other commitments I never made the trip (anyway there is a very slim chance that both species might be available for me at Amwell-wishful thinking perhaps). However  much more important has been the appearance of Hertfordshire's first Snow Bunting for 30 years, so i had to go.
The journey was pretty good and I arrived just before 1000 at Startops, parking in the lay by. Climbed the bank and had a scan, picking up the usual wild fowl and some fly over Fieldfares. Noticed a couple of birders looking down and went over to join them, and eventually I spotted the very well camouflaged Snow Bunting feeding among the stones and weed along the shore. It was incredibly tame and carried on feeding while we stood a few feet above it chatting. Hopefully it will stay into the New Year.
Drove over to Wilstone and walked round to the jetty. A large flock of Canada and Greylags feeding in the field nearby held the Brent Goose. While I was there I tried to scan the shore, searching among Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits for the regular Water Pipit. It eventually flew past me and I was able to watch it feeding under the concrete lip of the reservoir.
A walk round the old canal and farmland was not very productive  apart from a few Redwing and a Goldfinch flock. I eventually made my way to the hide and almost immediately saw the Bewicks in front of me-a pair with two young. The large Lapwing and Golden Plover flock did not contain anything of note, nor did the gulls-there has been a Med roosting recently. Someone mentioned that a few Pintail had been present recently, but the only duck of note was the female Red Crested Pochard.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Dartford warbler Surprise

Have not done any birding for a few weeks-recent weekends have been taken up with the usual pre Christmas things, and today was no exception.
Had to go down to see my sister Jane in Bournemouth today, and took Mum and my other sister Sarah. Very little to see on the way down, it was rather cold and icy to start, with some rain by the time we hit the M3 but it cleared near Basinstoke and the rest of the day was lovely and sunny. Sarah saw a few Buzzards and Lapwing flocks, but I missed them, though I did notice a few thrushes and Kestrels.
Janes garden seemed to be very attractive to birds with several feeders and berried shrubs. Blackbirds and Coal Tits seemed to be the commonest visitors though there were plenty of Great and Blue Tits coming and going.
The post lunch along Southbourne promenade did not promise much, though on past visits I had seen Stonechats. We saw several Meadow pipits and Pied wagtails feeding on the cliff edge but by far the most unexpected bird and a complete surprise was the Dartford warbler feeding in the gorse adjacent to the very busy path. Sarah and I watched it for several minutes as it worked it's way up the low cliff
and posed very nicely on a small branch. Naturally I did not have my camera gear with me.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Another Peep?

Just found out that the 'Stint' seen in flight several times with the Dunlin and Sharp Tailed Sandpiper at Chew has been identified as a Semi Palmated Sandpiper.
One of my really crap out of focus images of the feeding waders obscured by willow trees reveals one that appears to be  quite a bit smaller than the nearby Dunlin.

More Duff Wader Pics

Well I had more time off yesterday, and we were going to make another attempt at the Northumberland Yellowlegs. However, I had been feeling pretty rough all week and could not face another ten hours in a car. Add the fact that no-one could find it after first light on Thursday at any of its regular locations and I was very reluctant to dip again. Luckily, the Semi Palmated Sandpiper at had been at Cley for a few days now had been looked at closely, and there were a number of people suggesting it could be a Western Sandpiper.
Looking at the published photos, I was undecided, though there were a number of pro Western features, but the big problem was the apparent delayed moult. Still it was only a couple of hours away so worth going for whatever it would be.
Arrived at 0900, and being NWT members went straight in to Daukes Hide. The Dunlin flock was a long way off, but the peep was easy to pick out (though we had to be aware of a second small stint/runt Dunlin also present). Initially very active, getting any sort of plumage details was impossible, but it did get closer at times. I noticed an obvious gingery tone to the cap, cheek and shoulder when the light was right. At times the bill looked to be pretty long with a decent curve to it, as well as being a bit more lanky than the few Semi Palmated that I have seen. However, the scapular patterns proved to be very hard to see with certainty. The photo below does seem to show the requisite anchor mark on the retained juvenile feather, so I am pretty sure it is a Western.

 We moved hides to scan Pat's pool, at about the same time the waders decided to move, but luckily they did not stay long. A few Avocets remained and there were good numbers of other waders and wildfowl. The light was pretty dire but with patience the Green Winged Teal could be picked up.
Moving to the brightly lit and calm sea, it seemed to be pretty quiet. A small Common Scoter flock and the occasional Guillemot and Gannet was about all that we saw for some time. One or two Red Throated Divers were present and someone noticed that one hard to see individual looked better for Black Throated, and so it proved when it drifted past. A few Little Auks had been reported, and eventually I managed to see two-one distant and one close in. At about the same time a small flock of Little Gulls fed off shore.
 Both of us were feeling pretty tired achy so we decided to return home, but called in at Salthouse briefly. The usual Turnstone flock was present in the car park along with a few Teal and Redshank. Climbing the big hill, I saw a flock of Snow Bunting approach from the west, but they dropped down and when I got closer i could not find them.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Ups and Downs

Having decided last weekend to go for  the Sharp Tailed sandpiper as it would not stick around (still there today) rather than the Greater Yellowlegs we obviously had to try for the latter this weekend.
It had been reported at Cresswell Pond every day, though often going missing for some time, but it did seem reliable there, so having accumulated enough time to have  Friday off we headed up there, arriving around 0930  after a pretty quick and unhindered journey, considering we were in the Newcastle Durham area at rush hour.
 News from the hide was that it had been seen at first light before walking into the reeds (as on previous mornings) and based on previous observations would be back late morning. Well we stayed until 1515 and there was no sign. I suspect the high winds and squally rain may have played a part, but waders were coming and going all the time, and often staying well out in the open. I assumed it may have slipped out of the reeds un-noticed and flew to another location. Only decent birds we saw were a flock of Pale bellied Brent Geese-rather hard to find in the south among the Dark bellied we usually see.
 Saturday I had hoped to visit Tyttenhanger for the White Fronted Geese and then maybe Tring for the Brent and Bewicks Unfortunately the journey took it's toll and I did not really feel up to going out. News that Ricky and the boys had picked up a Bean Goose at Tyttenhanger was a bit gutting as was the late report of Greater Yellowlegs at Cresswell Pond again and later on at Hauxley.
 Still feeling a bit crap today, but I decide to go to Tyttenhanger. Arrived around 0930 and a quick scan into the Sun from the river bridge south of the main fishing car park produced a small flock of geese moving into the sallows. Two undoubted White Fronts among several Greylags and a darker goose almost obscured. Moved up to the hide for a better look and better light, with one other birder there. He had seen the Bean on the mud earlier. The Greylags and White fronts were still showing in among the sallows and other vegetation, but it seemed like the Bean was still hiding.
 I  moved up to the farm and spent some time watching the feeders. Lots of tits flying down, but the Tree Sparrows were much more elusive, calling from deep in the hedge and not really coming out. Had a long scan from the cliff top for the geese and suddenly they all flew out onto the water. Moved over to an open area, joining four other birders and we all got very good views of the Tundra Bean Goose swimming around and resting on the sand bar with both adult and juvenile White Fronts and the Greylags. I also picked up the over wintering Green Sandpiper before heading home.
 So one major dip, and two county ticks.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sharp Tailed Sandpiper

Everything was set and we were ready to go to Northumberland for the Greater Yellowlegs, so what were we doing at Chew Valley south of Bristol?
A report late on Thursday of a juvenile Sharp Tailed Sandpiper at Blagdon Lakes made me change the plans at the last minute. There have been a few Sharp Tails in the last couple of decades, but I have not been able to get to any, and this was the first juvenile since 1974. Also, there is a suspicion that the Yellowlegs may over winter so we headed off to Bristol yesterday.
Bad news from Blagdon as we were approaching Bristol-no sign by 0800am, so we diverted to Herriot's Bridge at Chew as there were at least some good birds there. Five minutes before we got there the pager said the Sharp Tailed was at Herriot's Bridge!
Leapt out of the car to be told it was lost from view behind a reed bed, at a distance of a couple of hundred yards, so we set up and waited. We were virtually the first to arrive, but soon the lay byes filled up. Did not take long to locate the two Long Billed Dowitchers feeding at the water's edge, among large numbers of Lapwing and Teal. Two Bewick's Swans were nice.
 A small flock of Dunlin appeared far to the right, almost hidden by reeds and I noticed a slightly larger, darker reddish bird, but could not get much on it. However those with better views  were able to confirm it as the Sharp Tailed. Eventually it came out and sat in among the tree stumps with the Dunlin. Lighting was terrible but we were able to see all the diagnostic features. Unfortunately the birds were flighty and were soon off. The Sandpiper stood out in the flying Dunlin flock by virtue of it's larger size and darker plumage. A much smaller bird was also seen-a Little Stint.
 The birds repeated this routine over the next couple of hours and eventually we got clear views in better light. The Dowitchers also appeared in the same area though I never got to see all three together.
 In between watching the Sandpiper I went over to the south side where I managed to get fair views of the Spotted Sandpiper on the causeway and in flight.
 Other decent birds included Peregrine, Goosander, Red Breasted Merganser, calling Water Rail and Cetti's Warblers.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Padding the year list fails.

 We intended to do Norfolk on Sunday, by way of a few birds on the way. However the news of a Greater Yellowlegs all the way up in Northumbria was a bit of a problem. The fact that it had been seen a few times in the morning  and then disappeared until late afternoon suggested that it may be too flighty and unlikely to be reliable (rather like the recent Cornish bird). In the event it remained in front of the hides at Hauxley all day and we never got to Norfolk.
 A few miles up the road from me just outside Biggleswade a small party of White Fronted Geese could be seen from the road, so we made them our first target. I have been geese hunting around here and nearby Shuttleworth before and found it a difficult exercise, but these were as reported, easily visible from the narrow lane. Parking was a bit awkward, and the light morning mist did not help.

 The other side of Biggleswade, on a new housing estate the female Black Redstart   was not seen despite a circuit of the estate. However, on getting back to the car I noticed a small reddish bird pop up briefly on the nearby school roof. Frustratingly a Starling then appeared in the same location, appearing somewhat orange due to the low Sun, and then flew off with another three birds. Luckily the small bird reappeared, dropped down and out of view. Approaching the school fence I noticed the now obvious Black Redstart on the fence where it gave satisfactory views before flying into the housing estate. We followed and got a number of good images. A number of other birds were seen in the area, a few flyover Yellowhammers and Skylarks, a Pied Wagtail family and a very short tailed Lark could only have been a Woodlark.

 We then went to the RSPB Lodge at Sandy in the hope that the unusually late staying Osprey would put in an appearance. In the event it did not but the autumnal scenes and the fungi were wonderful. Will be putting more images up on my Zeiss page.

 Apart from Siskins flying around, a few Woodpeckers and assorted finches the only birds of interest were Ravens-two juveniles and an adult bird were seen frequently near the visitors centre.
 Our next target was an inland Slavonian Grebe on Orton brick pits south of Peterborough. We may have had duff gen and the pit we tried to find could not be found-a new housing estate had been built on the approach road and we spent around fifteen minutes driving around what could only be described as the most depressing and god forsaken development I have seen for a long time.
 We gave up and headed for Guyhirn on the Nene washes. For some time now eight Cranes had been present on the cattle fields south of the A47. Unfortunately the farmer was driving a tractor around the fields when we arrived and the cranes had obviously gone so we went to Eldernell just in case they had ended up there.
 I recognised two of the birders as locals that we had met several times before in the area and they had checked most of the sites between here and Guyhirn with no success. We spent some time chatting while large flocks of Lapwings and corvids entertained us but there were no owls, swans or geese on view. They did give us a better location for the Orton grebe so we called in there on the way back. This pit was at least accessible but full of motorbikes and theer was of course no sign of a Slavonian Grebe. To make matters worse we left at 3.30 pm and later on a pager message said 8 Cranes Eldernell at 3.20.  
 So we got a couple of year ticks, three dead certs could not be found and a lifer was on view all day 250 miles away. Still it was a nice day.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Dull day pays off

Woke up to another dull dreary autumn day. Been promised bright sunshine for last couple of days and have yet to see any. Did not know what to do but eventually decided to go down to Amwell and while away a few hours.
Bill Simon and Tony were the only ones present and there did not seem to be much happening as usual. The board had three Goldeneye and I was told that a first winter Mediterranean Gull had been seen briefly in recent days. Simon went down to the hide and checked the gulls out before leaving, but did not find anything special.
Jay and Phil eventually arrived so with nothing better to do we also went to the hide in the hope the Med might appear. We found several colour ringed birds- Lesser Black Backs TL3T white on orange, DHAC white on blue and a Herring KDHT white on orange, some of which are from France but I hope to find out more later. A white headed Herring looked good for Yellow Legged, but it was light mantled-paler than some of the Herrings, so Bill and Phil dismissed it, particularly when they though they glimpsed pink legs. After about half an hour  it made its way to the logs got out and revealed its bright yellow legs! 
With time getting on we made our way back to the watchpoint and I was intending to depart when Phil noticed three Goosander -two males fly down from the north and carried on towards Stanstead Abbots. 
My first Goosander of the year (I have not been trying too hard) and my first Herts Yellow Legged of the year.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Eastern Crowned Warbler

There was me thinking the best bird in Herts is the Shrike, and I get a mega saying Eastern Crowned Warbler trapped and ringed at Hillfield Park!
Unfortunately no sign after release, and there is no general access anyway.

Great Grey Shrike

Had a report last night about a Great Grey Shrike seen west of Royston at Coombe Road. Apparently Ray Hooper had been told about it, saw it briefly but then lost it while getting the news out.
Arrived just after 0800 and found Simon Knot and Mike Illett-who had already spent a couple of hours here. They had not seen it, so I decided to head to Dead Mans Hill.
 There was a small flock of Fieldfare in the Hawthorns when I arrived, and across the road a large number of Starlings, Lapwing and a few Golden Plover were feeding. Had a few Linnets, Greenfinch and Larks, but not much else. A Red Kite hunting to the east never really got close enough to the camera.
 Drove down to Wallington, but the fields were quiet, though I did see a few larks and Corn Buntings. On a whim I decide to go back to Coombe Road just in case.
 Arrived just after nine and met Royston Dave and a friend, wound down the window to tell them the bad news, only to be told they were watching the Shrike! Unfortunately it was not in view, had been seen in a distant hedge a good 500 yards away. A wing barred bird flew out, I followed it in my scope and realised it was the Shrike, but I lost against the pale grass. Luckily Dave found it on a small bush and we had good if distant views as it hunted from the bush and the fence.

 More birders arrived and some were lucky to get on it before we lost it. Unfortunately  William Bishop and Bill Last didn't. However we did get four Crossbill go over which was a nice bonus. We kept on scanning the area while Bill went up to the top of the road, and eventually William's phone rang, though nothing came through. However it was clear that Bill had found it part of the hedge hidden from us.
 We all got decent views for around five minutes -it was around 250 yards away low down in a Hawthorn, then  flew out and perched before flying back down the hill. Before I eventually left it was back viewable from Coombe Road.

Saturday, 29 October 2011


Usual morning at Amwell. Bit cool until the sun came out.
Work on clearing the scrubby bits in front of the watch point has supposedly finished, though piles of willow and  brush which was meant to have been burnt last week suggest it didn't exactly go to plan.
It has however left us with some pretty clear views of the water's edge where things like Jack Snipe end to lurk, so hopefully when water levels build up it should deliver.
Plenty of thrushes moving again, and there seem to be a lot of Starling and Meadow Pipits flying around too-small parties of the latter dropped down into the newly cleared areas. Small numbers of finches went over, mostly Goldfinch and Siskin, one or two Linnets and a single Crossbill.
Departed at twelve, and walked down to the wood with Phil where we encountered huge numbers of Harlequin ladybirds sunning themselves on the fence. They appear to be associating closely with dense clumps of Ivy-presumably wintering sites. Ended up covered in them myself and one or two ended up tucked away in the car.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

One down two or three to go

 The area between Baldock and Royston has been a pretty good in recent years for raptors, game birds and mammals, which is why I often take a drive up there. Over the last four years of occasional visits I have managed to see most of the commoner raptors that can be expected to be seen in southern England, and while Osprey and Honey Buzzard are a bit unlikely, the one glaring omission has been Merlin. There have been several reports, but i have never managed to locate any.
 Alan Reynolds saw one at Wallington last week, and he saw it again a couple of days ago, so, with nothing much else to do today I went up there.
 The ploughed fileds south of the A505 held a large flock of Lapwing-around 70 and when they went up, I saw around 80 Golden Plover. A scan produced many partridge, pheasants, Larks and Black Headed and Common Gulls. A distant raptor on a fence proved to be a Kestrel. Nearer the village, the hedges held a small flock of Yellowhammer and 8 Corn Buntings.
 Driving over the Coombe road did not produce any birds, though there were a good 25 Hares in the fields, along with more game-birds.
 Deadmans Hill had more Lapwing, partridge, Larks and a single Buzzard. As I got out of the car, a small dark falcon flew low down from the hill to the east and flushed several larks from the set aside before continuing. By the time I got the camera up it was gone. With Merlin now out of the way, I need to find a Pallid Harrier....

Yesterday's visit to Amwell was more social than anything, catching up on gossip, especially as there were a few people I had not seen for a while. Like many, the news of the Scarlet Tanager in Cornwall was very tempting, but the lack of sightings on Friday put us all off. Good job we did not go as it appeared to have been re-found on Scilly.
 Birds were pretty much standard-a few Teal, Wigeon and Shoveller. No Goldeneye yet. Usual assortment of loafing gulls including a Greater Black Back. Despite the sunny weather and breeze, only a couple of Buzzards and Sparrowhawk seen, along with a single Kestrel. Occasional Skylarks and Meadow Pipits going over. Best birds were three Redpoll, one Bullfinch and a flyby Kingfisher.
 Looks like at least one Red Crested Pochard is back for winter, but we could not locate it.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Full of Eastern Promise

 With easterly winds at last, birds were pouring into the east coast from the continent on Thursday, and to a lesser extent on Friday. The plan therefor for Saturday seemed pretty well sorted early on, as there were a few decent birds in Suffolk-a putative Isabelline Wheatear, an Isabelline Shrike, a Bluetail and lots of Yellow Browed Warblers, with the promise of more. 50 Short Eared Owls in off the sea at Titchwell on Thursday was interesting. The news of a Rufous Tailed Robin at Warham Greens in Norfolk late on Friday changed everything.
 The clear skies did not look good for the bird to stay, so we decided to get to Norfolk fairly late, head for Titchwell and divert to Warham if necessary (also because of the decidedly odd at the time parking instructions).
Driving up the A10 through a fogy fenland landscape, the early news that the bird could not be found was not a great surprise so we carried on with our plan. News of a Red Flanked Bluetail trapped at Holme but not seen since release interesting-I was pretty much expecting a bird to be found today.
 We drove through Ringstead and along the backroads to Chosely, finding a nice covey of Grey Partridge. The Moon looked good too.

 Further on, a walk around the hedges produced a number of thrushes-my first Fieldfare of the winter, lots of Blackbirds and a few Song Thrushes. Red Legged Partridges, some Curlew and a flyover lapland Bunting added interest. Chosely Barns were rather quieter than last weekend, though some Corn Buntings were found.
 As the Bluetail had been seen again, we diverted to Holme. Despite the early hour, the car parks were pretty busy and Bill Boyd was getting overwhelmed issuing permits. We headed off into the pines and searched. A few Brambling and Goldcrests seemed to be it for me, until I noticed that everyone had gone. Rushing back to the access track we found a large crowd watching a single pine where the bird was supposed to have flown too. Despite a long wait there was no sign.
 Looking round, I noticed Bill Last, Mike Illet, Daryl Bryant and Barry Reed, so stopped to chat. Obviously they had come up for the Robin first thing and decided to make the best of a bad day with the Bluetail.
 We drifted back to the ridge and noticed people moving rapidly-the bird was in the brambles in the dunes. I got glimpses in a small pine as it worked it's way up and then it flew over my head into another bramble clump. It then flew out, and headed west, ironically back to the original lone pine and then another just beyond. I sat down and watched the bush for a bit, seeing a bird fly out and then apparently come back. However it was later relocated in the sycamore and buckthorn by the NWT car park, though few seemed to have seen it, so I returned to the car.

 We eventually left and arrived at a full up Titchwell car park. A spell in the Fen Hide failed to locate any Jack Snipe, though I did see a Bittern fly over. Further on in the next hide we watched a huge flock of Golden Plover, many Brents flying in and a rather odd hybrid Wigeon-the head pattern showed a large amount of green on the ear coverts, and a vineous breast more reminiscent of American Wigeon, but everything else, including the head pattern fitted Eurasian.

 The sea was rather quiet, as expected due to the light south easterlies, but a small crowd in the dunes drew our attention. I was told a Short Eared Owl had just dropped in. Views in the marram were not brilliant but it was great to see a bird so closely. On the way back, we heard another Lapland Bunting, found around five Rock Pipits on the fresh marsh and watched a pair of Bearded Tits in the reeds.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Titchwell and Holme

Having not done a great deal so far this holiday, and feeling the need to do something, we decided to head out to Norfolk on Sunday. Not much on the pager, but I thought the overnight rain, and a brief spell of warm southerlies after the constant north westerlies might produce something.
Called in at Chosely Barns on the way. Lots of Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Pied Wagtails feeding in the fields and around the barns. Saw my first Pink Footed Geese of the winter-just a few birds flew in from the east.. A longer scan produced lots of Curlew and Red Legged Partridge, some Meadow Pipits but no Corn Buntings.
Titchwell was a bit blustery at times but reasonably warm considering the last couple of days. Work on the sea defences is almost over, but the disturbance has resulted in a lot fewer birds. With the tide dropping we went to the sea for about an hour. Lots of duck movements-alll heading west into the wind. Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Tufted Duck a few Pochard, more Wigeon, Common Scoter, some Mergansers, Goldeneye, Wigeon. Did I mention Wigeon? Also a considerable number of waders were coming in, Knot, Dunlin, Snipe, and we even had three Grey Herons. Just about the only birds heading east were small numbers of Gannet. Also saw a male Velvet Scoter sitting on the sea.
Never seen anything quite like it, just a shame there were no divers, Skuas or anything we would normally expect to see, but the wind just did not seem right for them.
Not much on the way back, a female Pintail dropped in and posed, before a loud party of birders sent her off.

 Still a few dragonflies around in the sheltered fen area, just Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters.

Spent the early afternoon at Holme. Called in at the Firs and had a chat-apparently they have been waiting a while for large duck movements, but unfortunately there was not much for us to find in the dunes.
Had a walk anyway, and encountered a few Tit flocks, Meadow Pipits and finches. No Woodcock yet, and no thrushes, though the Buckthorn hardly had any berries.
Walked back through the pines and called in at the observatory briefly. Not much happening here either.

Drove back through the Ouse Washes at Welney and Pymore-three small herds of Whooper Swans were found.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


After last weekends heatwave, its a bit of a shock to go out in full winter gear today-its freezing. Not helped by a bit of a cold bug, but I had to get out and get some air.
Went down to Amwell for a few hours. Main talking point was of course the Crane-which true to form flew of yesterday thwarting the weekend birders. Other items we talked about included the 'Northern Flicker' seen in Essex nearly a month ago and only just been reported and the possible Black Tailed Gull seen in the Graffham roost.
Birding today was a bit quiet still, enlivened by  several flocks of Redwing flying through-at least some things are coming in from the continent. Thrushes seemed to be fairly active compared to recent months with Mistle and Blackbirds, plus several distant unidentified birds. One Common Sandpiper is still present-we thought it wise in view of the huge number of American waders in the country to eliminate Spotted Sandpiper.
Redpoll and Siskin have been seen recently, and there were some Swallows a few days ago.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Hatfield Forest

Been working in the garden over the last couple of days, so have not gone out birding.
Here are a couple of images from Monday when we called in at hatfield Forest. Both have had a bit of experimental processing.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Sandhill Crane

Early start today-left at 0415 and got to Colin's about half hour later. Arrived at Boyton about 0600 and it was still dark, though the sky was starting to brighten. Birders already pouring out of the Church Hall car park.
Walked down the track, accompanied by calling Tawny and Barn Owls and reached the fields where the crane was supposed to have last  been seen. Kept an eye on what we were told was the maize where it had flown off to roost, until a sudden rush took us round the corner overlooking another patch of maize where we were told it roosted-well it couldn't be both. Two Spoonbills flew south which was a nice diversion.
After about 45 minutes a shout and we saw it flying low from the north over Orford lighthouse-nowhere near the supposed roost spots. It pitched down in a distant field and we watched it for about an hour while it fed. It then flew low along the sea wall and landed near the end of the track so we moved a bit closer, and so did it. I realised it was now pretty close to us and it gave us superb views feeding around 200 yards away. After nearly another hour it suddenly took off, flew close to us and was lost over the sea wall to the south.
It could not have gone better, and in a way I am glad we did not go yesterday as the views in the extreme heat would never have been as good as what we got in the cool of the morning.

 Most of us then returned to the creek where we searched for the Willow Emerald damselflies. Did not take long for me to find one, and having got the scope on it, I was able to show it to the crowd. At least one or maybe two others were later seen.

 We did not have any more targets in the area so returned home. We called in at Marks Hall where the arboretum promised nice autumnal landscapes, but it was shut, so we ended up at Hatfield Forest for an hour or so.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Holiday part !

Well the October holiday has started and the heatwave continues.
Spent a few hours at Amwell yesterday until the heat got too much. Very little happening and the regulars were more interested in sorting out their phone apps.
Apart from four Snipe and a few Wigeon and Teal there is little sign of winter visitors. Apparently though, a Bittern has been seen.

Today I decided to do a bit of work in the garden before the heat got going. Was quite pleasant at first, with a few Skylarks heading west as they do at this time of year. An adult Chiffchaff spent some time in the Birch, Rowan and Elder occasionally singing.
Just about finished the work and got a call from Colin-Sandhill Crane at North Warren. Dithered a bit and decided to pack. Just got in the car and got another call saying it had flown south. Well that killed it for me and I decided to have lunch.
It came down at Boyton, and hopefully it will stick until tomorrow morning. If it flies, next stop could be Kent or Holland.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Horrible Weather

The late summer heatwave continues. The high over the continent has all but killed any migration and I have just started my holiday-two weeks off.
The Sandhill Crane reappeared yesterday over the Northumberland coast. It slowly flew south and reached Whitby in Yorkshire before heading west. No sign today, and it may be a while before it decides to move again. Hope someone finds it.
Meanwhile the Sun has been pretty active. A superb auroral  display a few days back did not seem to get down to my latitudes, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that something may happen soon.
Here is todays sun.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Sunny and quiet

I was not able to get up to the Loch of Strathbeg to twitch the Sandhill Crane this weekend, due to various commitments. Hope it stays a while.
The high pressure over the Continent has not been all that great in producing much in the way of good birds, and those that have appeared have not really lingered, so we decided to save a bit of cash. The fine autumnal weather has prompted me to get out locally with the camera and look at landscapes. Have yet to process the results though.
 Yesterday I went out around Aston End and up the (dry) river Beane. In the local conifer plantation, I was surprised to find a pair of Treecreepers-I have walked through these woods since they were planted around 1970 and have never seen Treecreepers here before. I assume they were associating with a fairly mobile tit flock. I also heard a Nuthatch here-a species that has only occasionally encountered here in the last few years.
A pair of Bullfinches near the Crown pub was nice. Most of the nearby fields are or have been ploughed and as usual there were Skylarks moving around and a large flock of Lesser Black Backs, also five Red Legged Partridge near the ford. The hedges seem to have been cut recently so Yellowhammers and finches were rather scarce.
Birds of prey included two Buzzards over Lords farm being mobbed by corvids, and at least six others could be seen to the north and east. A pair of Kestrels were seen several times and appear to have young in one of the trees judging by the noise. Finally another pair of Bullfinches were heard near the radio mast at Chells Manor.
Few butterflies despite the sun, one Small Copper, one Red Admiral and a few Speckled Woods.

Today I drove over to Sandon and then south and east through some of the remoter villages.
Eight Buzzards at Deadmans Hill, along with a Kestrel and a female Sparrowhawk that disturbed a very big flock of Skylarks and Linnets. A couple of Corn Buntings flew through, and there were a few red legged Partridges too.
Not much seen on the drive, apart from soaring Buzzards everywhere, and I 'only' managed to see one Red Kite.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Gulls don't Get Much Better

 After several weeks without much long distance birding, decided to go out for the day. Plenty of good stuff knocking about now, but most of it is in Cornwall and the Scillies-not much good for a gentle Sunday out. Decided to go to Graffham instead where last weekend's ex hurricane had left a few birds.
 Arrived and was worried to see signs for the Graffham Water marathon-marquees, bunting the lot. Luckily we arrived before the crowds and it was still quiet. Walked out to the dam and saw a few birders in the distance, but not much birdlife-a few gulls, plenty of geese and some grebes. Colin looked over the edge, decided he wanted to photograph the Ringed Plover and then we noticed the Grey Phalarope sleeping-I had assumed it would be on the water. Eventually it woke up and performed well-and the returning birders who had walked straight past it had a good time as well.

 No sign of our main bird, the adult Sabine's Gull. We heard it had been seen in one of the north-western bays so drove off and through the village, parking at the end of the lane.
 Met a birder who had not seen it in the reported bay, so eventually headed west and met two others who called me over. Had great views of the bird flying around in conjunction with a Black Headed, but it was quite distant.

 It eventually flew off and was seen to land on one of the beaches so we followed. Got pretty good views from fairly close range looking through the trees but my stake out at a clearing failed as it flew off again.
 Having now been joined by a small crowd, we made our way back, trying to get good views on the ground, but it kept flying off, until it reached what we were told was it's favoured beach, where it really performed at close range-I was getting almost full frame images.


Only once have I ever seen an adult Sabines in breeding plumage-and that was on the Scillonian pelagic in August 1996. To see one inland is incredibly unusual-most of the storm driven birds tend to be younger birds, which also seem to be what we invariably see on decent sea watches.

 We decided to head off to Clacton where the juvenile Pallid Harrier had been reported early morning, but a later message saying no sign since mid morning prompted us to turn round, luckily just a short distance from Langthorns Nursery-I have put a new fence and arbour up so needed a few climbers which I knew they had. Also had a few impulse buys but I think the butterflies would like them.
Incidentally this has been the only place I've been this year where Painted Ladies have been seen in any quantity.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


Spent a couple of hours at Amwell this morning with Phil and Bill. Phil had a few moths and some Lesser Earwigs from his moth trap.
Pretty quiet and not much seemed to be happening. Two Common Sandpipers still, and a Green Sand dropped in for a bit. Up to four Hobbies feeding over the woods, the most I've seen this year at one time. After Jay and Simon arrived, things picked up. We had around five Buzzards and a Kite, along with the usual Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and two unidentified distant large raptors.
Hirundines were moving through in small flocks, Sand Martins and Swallows in the main. Rather good were two or three Swift-a bit too early for Pallid unfortunately.
Still a few Common Terns present, but few warblers.
Only butterflies seemed to be lots of Red Admirals, various whites and a Small Tortoiseshell, mostly on the Ivy flowers.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Been a Long Time

As mentioned in my profile, I was for many years active in a wide range of astronomical fields, and one of the areas I specialised in was white light solar imaging-visual observations from 1984 onwards with digital imaging taking place between 2000 and 2006.
With around two years of on-off surgery, the specialised equipment was put in storage, and subsequently the solar cycle  went into a very deep prolonged minimum. Since I saw no point in taking images of blank yellow circles I never got round to dusting the equipment off. I keep an eye on spaceweather.com and seeing that there were some interesting sunspot groups decided to have a go.
Had to completely strip the equipment down and ensure every optical surface was clean, and discovered that there were also a few mechanical issues to sort out as well. Still the results were pretty good considering how out of practice I had become.

There is a small amount of cirrus cloud drifting over the disc but the six active groups are visible.

Just to point something out-this was taken with highly specialised equipment designed specifically for solar observations. Please do not try this with ordinary camera equipment, lenses or telescopes as damage to the equipment is a certainty and there is also a very high risk of severe eyesight damage.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Bank Holiday at Cley

Decided to spend the Bank Holiday Monday at Cley. There had been a few good migrants over the weekend, and the low in the `north Sea promised a bit of sea watching. Unfortunately it looked like the Western Bonelli's had gone.
 Approaching Cley, the mega alert went off-Yelkouan Shearwater off Coastguards suggested that the sea was delivering, but as it turned out we missed the best of it. I had a chat with some birders-none had seen the Shearwater which sounded a bit odd, though I later read the report which sounded pretty good. The only decent bird I saw was a Roseate Tern close in and above the heat haze over the water. Plenty of Common and Sandwich Terns offshore with one or two Arctics and Littles thrown in. Gannets and a couple of Skuas were very distant, and I never did see any Shearwaters. Seeing that activity was declining we headed off to the East Bank.
 Arnold's Marsh seemed full of `godwits and Curlews with a few moulting Spotted Redshanks. There seemed to be a lot of Wigeon present. Had hoped to pick up Whimbrel and maybe a scarcer wader or perhaps a chat of some kind. Went back to the car and then headed up to Walsey Hills where the juvenile Red Backed Shrike had been for a few days. Gradually worked our way towards the hedge and got pretty good views at times. One potential problem was the bizarre sight of a  large number of female pirates (a hen party we think) appearing on the footpath was avoided when I was able to direct them away from the favoured corner. Despite this the bird did eventually disappear into the hedge shortly after we left and remained elusive for some time.

 We headed off to Bishops Hide overlooking Pats Pool. The 14 Spoonbills were not hard to miss, nor were the huge number of Curlew Sandpipers-something approaching 40 were reported. Only saw a few Little Stints and failed to see the Wood Sandpiper, but some of the birds were approaching the hide close enough for some pretty good images.

 With little in the way of reported migrants we called it a day early afternoon, and called in at Cley Spey for a while before heading home. Convinced Colin that the new Swaro 12x50's would be worth looking at and he seemed to like them.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Spme More Recent Images

Not been able to get out this weekend so far.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Getting Up to Date

Here are some recent images that I have only just got round to looking at.

 Today I went down to Amwell for a few hours. The usual Sunday crowd present so it was mainly talking with a bit of birding-its still very quiet.
The weather was rather warm with the humidity building and it got a bit uncomfortable at times. Seemed to help with the insects and this produced a lot of Hobby sightings-also had a lot of Sparrowhawk activity including a close encounter on the bridge as one was chased by a crow.
Duck numbers remain constant, but Shoveller and Teal seem to be more obvious now. Few waders-the summering birds have gone, but there were at least two Common Sandpiper on the islands and we also had a very brief visit by a Greenshank that dropped in for a minute before flying up the valley.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Rye Meads

Spent a few hours at Rye this morning. Started off very damp and drizzly but got better by noon.
The Elder bushes around the Water Vole watchpoint were full of warblers-Chiffchaff, Willow, Blackcap and many other birds such as tits and Wrens. The birds would often perch on the hand rails affording superb views, and also the fence, but most of the time they were foraging in the bushes.

 I was told that the Wood Sandpiper may still be around so spent some time in Draper Hide. However, the ringing group were running a demonstration and had nets up at the back of the reeds, which probably caused some disturbance. There was only one Green Sandpiper for instance, and the recent Garganey was nowhere to be seen. There were a couple of Teal though which seemed to be a bit early for a winter arrival, as well as some Shoveller.

 The Black Necked Grebe is still around, from the Tern hide and was as usual tucked away in a corner and did not show. Not much else to see though having the camera meant I could grab a shot of a flyby Canada Goose.

 The Kingfisher hide was full of cameras. One did show for a considerable period but was on one of the more distant posts and the lighting was not all that great.

 Because of the weather there were few butterflies on the wing apart from Green Veined Whites and Speckled Woods. Dragonflies were limited to Brown Hawkers and a few Common Darters.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


Arrived at Amwell this morning to a largely full house, but few birds. Spent much of the morning chatting to everyone about plants and butterflies.
Saw a few birds. Duck numbers are low, and being in eclipse do not look all that great. Couple of Shoveller among the more usual summer ducks. One Hobby and several Buzzards were seen-I arrived too late for the Red Kite and Yellow Wagtail. Got good views of Hertfordshire's first locally bred juvenile Little Egrets but filed to find any migrant waders despite the lowered water levels.
The weather did not look good for dragonflies but I did see a few Red Eyed and Small Red Eyed Damselflies among the more usual species. Few butterflies, though Red Admirals and some Commas were on the Buddleas.

Orchids and Butterflies

Getting to the end of the season, but there are still a few insects and plants to see, and having not seen Colin for about a month we decided to do another Chiltern and area tour.
Heard that the Warburg Violet helleborines were flowering, so made that the first stop. Luckily the office was open so we could consult the map-and heard of a few bonuses too. Did not take long to get to the helleborine cages-walked past the now gone over Narrow Lipped, but there was no sign of any Broad Leaved at all-apparently all been eaten by Deer.
The Violets were a superb sight and we found several multi-stemmed plants to boot. Took most images using my flash gun to isolate the plants from the background.

The walk back took us through the southern meadow where we were told to look out for Chiltern Gentian. Not hard to miss being so  big. Spent quite a while trying to get sharp images of the hover flys that seemed to like them.

 The meadows were very colourful, with Musk Mallow, Thyme, Marjoram and the Gentians contrasting with yellow Wild Parsnip and Agrimony.
Birds weer rather scarce again, as most of the adults and juveniles tend to skulk at this time of year. We found many Marsh Tits as usual, along with the more usual woodland species and were delighted to hear a flock of Redpollss fly over.

 The weather was not ideal for our plans as drizzle was not exactly expected for the morning. By the time we got to Aston Rowant it had turned to light rain. This did not stop the butterflies though. Lots of Common Blues and Chalkhill Blues and volatile Silver Spotted Skippers-our main target. Luckily one settled down for a long time allowing a close approach.

 The Red Kite watchpoint was a dead loss in the rain, though one distant bird did fly over.

 We then headed north west to try various Brown Hairstreak sites east of Oxford.
Bernwood Meadows looked promising, particularly as the sun was now shining, but we failed, as did the party that had been there all day. Lots of browns of course, and Common Blues as well as a slightly worn Silver Washed Fritillary.
A couple of more local sites described to me last week were not successful-we found the right area but i think failed to locate the correct bushes.
The last resort of Whitecross Green was our final destination. Several sightings in the logbook for the day and a chat to a returning observer raised our hopes. A long stake out of the Ash trees around the pond did not reveal anything until I located a butterfly high in one of the trees. Turned out to be a Purple Hairstreak, however two others seen flying around looked good but were too distant.
Just as we were leaving a Brown Hairstreak flew past Colin at head hight and then went up into one of the Ashes. We stayed a few more minutes but i never came down.