Monday, 31 January 2011

Great Expectations

Sunday looked to be very good on paper, with a lot of potential down in Hampshire. Did not go quite to plan.
We arrived just outside Hordle, where the wintering juvenile White Tailed  Eagle had been seen again after a short absence just after nine, and found a small crowd. It was extremely cold, barely above freezing (and was to remain that way most of the day). After waiting some time, we headed off to Angel Lane, another favoured spot but despite another wait, and one or two others scouring the immediate area we decided to head off to Milton and await news.
Milton had four Lapland Buntings in a stubble field. Did not know the field was so big....
Found a Greenshank among Dunlin and Turnstone which was nice but never managed to get an image of it.

Scouring the field edges I picked up a lot of Skylarks, some Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits. Just as we were leaving we were told the Laplands had been seen in the eastern hedge before flying out into the middle of the field.

With no news of the Eagle we went off to the New Forest at Burley where we hoped to connect with the Great Grey Shrike we had seen last year, plus hopefully Woodlark and Dartford Warbler. Despite the sun, it was still very cold and exposed on the high ground and a search of the area failed to find anything of note.
Next stop was the Titchfield Haven area and it's Red Breasted Goose. Not familiar with the area and knowing it was ranging over several miles of coast we first tried an area near Hook which turned out to be a holiday home park. Some of the nearby 'roads' were little more than narrow tracks and with no other information we headed off to the Haven and parked. Found out the geese were in a field near the holiday homes and it was a couple of miles walk along the cliff top. Checked the area on satellite maps and still cant figure out an easy way of getting there.
As a last resort we headed off to Gosport and it's regular Ring Bill Gull. Arrived to see a pretty good adult Ring Bill fly off into the sun with a Common Gull. Hung around for a while and eventually noticed it had snuck back in and was sitting on the water. Flew off a couple of times but always returned to the same bit of the boating lake.Ended up with a few decent images, including some nice flight shots.

Salvaged something out of the day. Heard in the evening that the Eagle had been seen early afternoon perched in a tree for a bit, and it has also been seen a couple of times today from Angel Lane.

Saturday, 29 January 2011


Managed to get down to Amwell for the first time in several weeks. Absolutely freezing, barely above zero.
Got the drake Pintail quite quickly, and the other regular ducks soon followed. Gull numbers seemed a bit low, and with the frozen mud there were no waders apart from a few Lapwing, and virtually no small birds to be seen.
After a while, the I managed to locate the drake Mandarin on the island-it swam out briefly tailed by a female before returning.
With no Smew visible I thought I'd head up to Tumbling Bay, but got distracted by calling Siskin in the old picnic area. Counted a good 50, along with a few tits, but no Redpolls were present. Up at Tumbling Bay there was nothing much at all, just a small number of the commoner ducks. Ran into Bill, Barry and William on the way back and had a chat before going along to Hollcross Lake. Thanks to Julie and her scope had great views of the three Red Crested Pochards and three Red Head Smew.
We all met up at the watchpoint  before many left for the waxwings down at Stanstead St Margarets.  The rest of us eventually found two more Red Heads and a fine drake Smew at the far southern end of the main lake.
Not long after the cold got to me and I retuned home.

Tucking into lunch the Blackcap put in an appearance again.

Friday, 28 January 2011


Came home from work early, as is usual for a Friday. While finishing lunch I happened to look out at the feeders and noticed a male Blackcap. Of course as soon as I turned round he was off. Ran up to get the camera and waited but after a long time I assumed he had flown off further down the road.
Nearly an hour later he was back, down among my pots of Lilies, but as soon as the camera came up it was game over. Waited a further hour before the light dropped but no further sign.
I get Blackcaps most winters-invariably males from the continent but usually only one or two sightings-which with the limited amount of time I spend watching the garden probably means they are visit most weeks.
While waiting, I had  a pair of Great Tits, three Blue Tits, a pair of Blackbirds, a Wren, the usual Robin and pigeons and several Starlings.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Larid Fun

On Thursday, Birdwatch Magazine editor Dominic Mitchell found an interesting gull on the tip adjacent to the RSPB reserve at Rainham. He immediately identified it as Britain's first Slaty Backed Gull from the western Pacific. However his initial images caused some concern due to the apparent paleness of the bird.
A number of birders saw the gull on Friday, and confirmed the identification, though the bird did not seem to be as dark as expected-somewhat between Yellow Legged and graelsii Lesser Black Backed instead of almost black. Naturally this dictated our Saturday destination.
Rainham are very good, and opened up two hours early at 0730, and by the time we arrived just after 0800, parking was limited to the approach road verge (they also opened up the normally closed road by the railway). It was a bit of a slog along the Thames footpath due to the wind but we eventually arrived to find around a thousand birders lined up on the bank along the fence. I managed to find a spot in with a group from Belgium and stared scanning. Some one then fainted prompting urgent calls for a doctor-and eventually an ambulance arrived.
Did not take long to find a good candidate first winter Caspian Gull, and soon after a number of Yellow Legged Gulls were found, several first winters and and adult. Had a bit of a scare when i saw an all white bird with bright red legs , but it soon became apparent that it was the well known leucistic Herring Gull bearing the ring number SH1T.
Over the course of five hours we found one or two birds that could have been Slaty Backed on colouration, but structurally they were all wrong and were either large pale Lesser Black Backs or very dark Herring/Yellow Legged types (the light was poor and viewing through the fence and vegetation added to the difficulties in judging colour). One did look very good, but it was largely hidden from view and we were not able to determine what it really was. Every now and again I would scan the flying throng with my bins and one or two birds were seen with a wide white trailing edge, but the requisite wing tip pattern was never seen.
After showing people some images on Surfbirds, someone got very excited about a dark headed Lesser Black Back and as in the nature of these events a number of others became convinced it was the Slaty Backed but we were able to rule it out on size and structure. We attracted a crowd though.
Just after noon, the tip closed down and this caused many of the gulls to leave, but a number settled down in front of us,including a fine adult Caspian-looking slightly better than a third winter bird I had seen distantly earlier.
Rumours started to pop up that the bird had been seen on the Thames, and also on a pool somewhere, and it eventually emerged that at least three small groups of birders had claimed to have seen the Slaty Backed, but news was never released.
We decided to call it a day and got back to the car at 1400-it was very tiring trying to stand on the narrow muddy bank and viewing through he scope was very uncomfortable and bad on the back. Having the 500mm lens did not help.
Still it was an interesting day, saw some good gulls and got in some practice on Caspians which is always useful. Nice to see a large contingent from across the Channel too.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Long Time No See

After many many weeks, I had a day out with Colin. Good job he remembered where I live, though both of us were a bit rusty with our preparations.
Headed off to Norfolk, more specifically Thornham Harbour where the Northern Harrier has been seen on a regular basis. With a heavy frost and lots of black ice we took the roads very gently, and as a result when we got to Thornham just after 9 am we were rather gutted to learn the Harrier had just gone out of view.
Over the course of the next hour or so, we kept scanning over towards Holme Dunes where it was last seen, with the occasional scan over towards Titchwell. This was productive as we saw a normal ring tail Hen Harrier, a large covey of Grey Partridge, many hundreds of Pink Feet and about 20 Barnacle geese among the more usual suspects. A bit of sea watching, despite being a long way off was worthwhile with a couple of fly by Red Necked grebes, some Long Tail Ducks (not having seen any at all last year) and Kittiwakes. Lots of waders and sea suck too.
Around 1030 we were surprised to get a message saying the Harrier had just been seen to our north, presumably by the crowd near the barn a few hundred yards away. On their return we quizzed them and got confirmation, as well as the last position, and soon after some of us located a Harrier near the old blockhouse on Thornham Marsh. It looked promising, but the diagnostic feature (a broken leg) did not show. It landed for a bit allowing everyone to locate the bird and over the course of the next ten minutes it then flew towards us before flying along the shoreline where we got very good views. The very dark brown upper-parts contrasted with the peachy orange largely unstreaked under-parts, and the very dark head was outlined by a pale collar and a dark boa- I could understand  the comparison with Pallid Harrier. Satisfied with the views I ran back to the car to get my camera but by then it had vanished. Colin got a few images with his Pentax K5 and 300mm lens:-

Long considered conspecific with Hen Harrier, some authorities have split Northern Hen Harrier, as it seems to be more closely related to Cinereous Harrier which is logical as it is also an American species. So a tick of sorts on our first day out.
We left soon after and went to Titchwell which turned out to be pretty much full up with only a few spaces left along the approach road. While getting ready and having a coffee we scanned the car park, but were unable to locate any Redpolls-Mealy or Lesser among the tit/Siskin flocks. Had the same problem at the feeders so we decided to wander round the Fen Trail to see if we could find any other birds. Good move as we flushed two Woodcock-another species we failed to see last year.
Heading up to the new Parrinder Hide, we scanned the fresh and salt marsh picking up several Twite and a flyby Water Pipit, before bumping into Bill Last. Had a quick natter as I had not seen him for a bit and investigated the new hide and view points.
Took a few snaps as well.

The sea was productive with more Long Tail Ducks and Red Necked Grebes. Tried to locate one of the Slavonians, but the tide was dropping fast. This also meant the Scoter flock was very distant, and despite a long watch I failed to see any white wings of a Velvet.
The old tern hide has long gone, but it's location was a good vantage point to watch the nine Shorelarks feeding in the dunes. Never managed to get them all in the viewfinder though.

Eventually we left Titchwell having found the female Scaup on the fresh marsh and headed off to Burnham Norton. Found a small crowd watching flights of Pink footed Geese coming in and a quick scan of the beet field produced the adult Ross's Goose among the Pink Feet.     
We finished off just down the road at Burnham Overy and heard we had just missed a Rough Legged Buzzard. I scanned the geese and was rewarded with a single Tundra Bean goose though it soon vanished into a hollow and few others saw it. A couple of Barn Owls were nice to see and after a short wait a very pale Buzzard over the Holkham Pines proved to be one of the Rough Legged. It was on view for some time, where it was joined for a while by a Common Buzzard before hunting over the Burnham Overy dunes-would have been nice to have been there with the camera as it would have been very close. As it was i had to settle for a pretty pathetic distant image.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Nice start to the Year

Did not feel up to going out yesterday, so spent a lot of time scanning the garden. Being a very damp drizzly day, it remained fairly quiet with only a few birds visiting, and not much seen in the murk flying over.
This morning, I thought I'd try and get down to Amwell for a few hours. Worth Doing.
Barry, Jan and Phil are back in South America, but the usual Sunday crowd was present. Unfortunately so was a big working party, but they did not cause much disturbance. Something like 70% of the main lake is completely iced up, with most of the open water in front of the watch point.
First decent bird was a Red head Smew feeding on the ice edge not too far away-another was found soon after. The grotty Pintail has now moulted into a fine drake, though at times it proved very elusive. All five expected gull species were loafing on the ice-Dave Beer tried but failed to find Yellow Legged.
With Tony, we went down to the Water Vole pit, which surprisingly was largely ice free. A small flock of Siskin flew through We just missed a Bittern, but found the three female type Red Crested Pochards-they had moved from the largely iced up Hollycross, which is where we headed to. Took a while but eventually Tony found the stunning drake Smew.
We returned to the Water Vole pit and I found a Water Rail scurrying through the cuttings, and not long after that I saw the Bittern come out onto the ice at the back where it posed  for a few minutes. Happy, we returned to the watchpoint, having found Marsh Tit among one of the tit flocks.
A last scan of the reserve failed to find anything new-the ground is so frozen there are no Snipe for example, and few passerines feeding, though one or two Cetti's Warblers are calling.

On the way back I called in at Tanners Close hertford where 26 Waxwings were sitting in two trees.