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.